This morning I drove my 13-year-old daughter, Casey, to school just like always. It’s typically a rush from the moment we wake at 6:30am to the moment we head out the door at 7:00. I am not a morning person. So to avoid barking orders I generally take a more relaxed approach in the mornings. But recently I’ve taken a step back for another reason.
In four more years my daughter will head off to college. Just four years. That’s no time at all. If I want to prepare her to live independently with any chance of success I can’t wait until she is a junior in high school to start to allow her to make decisions for herself. I need to begin now when she can learn while still surrounded by our safety net.
To that end I have stopped telling my daughter how to dress or what to do with her hair. I don’t tell her how (or even where) to complete her homework. And I allow Casey to keep her room like a crime scene. If she can’t find something, it’s her problem. Casey does her own laundry, for the most part. She can vacuum and mop and empty the dishwasher. To my great delight she woke up before her parents on Sunday and made pancakes.
So this morning I was still feeling pretty good about the level of independence we are fostering in our house. Well, that is until my daughter took one step out of the car at school.
For first period Casey has gym. Since she has to change her shoes when she gets to school she usually walks barefoot to the locker room. Since we moved to California Casey hasn’t worn pants and she barely wear shoes other than flip flops. I’m freezing all the time but she isn’t. I figure if she gets cold she will put on more clothes. Today she got out of the car and I heard a teacher say, “Casey, you know it’s 38 degrees out, right?” I doubt Casey knew it was that cold but she wouldn’t have cared if she did know. She doesn’t get cold and her laziness about putting shoes on outweighs the discomfort of her feet becoming chilly.
However, at that moment I felt shame. I felt like I wasn’t doing my parenting job. What kind of parent allows their kid to go to school in a t-shirt, shorts and no shoes when it’s near freezing outside? I drove away embarrassed. My first thought was to make Casey put her shoes on before leaving the house from now on.
But as I drove away I realized this teacher isn’t going off to college with Casey. He has no responsibility for her future. There are tons of people who wouldn’t approve of some of our parenting decisions. I don’t care. They don’t have to live with my kids, and they don’t have to ensure their ability to work and live independently in the world.
When anyone doles out parenting advice (myself included) parents need to filter it through their philosophy. Our philosophy is to allow the kids to make reasonable decisions and learn from the natural consequences. Following that philosophy means an occasional bad grade for missing homework. It means losing a cherished item in the sea of a messy room. And it means letting the kids get cold or embarrassed or feel some small degree of pain to learn lessons on their own. Some days that is easier to do than others.
***On a side note, my car is clearly a California car. An alarm sounded as a warning as I drove away to tell me it was cold outside. Maybe the car was trying to teach me a lesson!