The folder is bright orange; bright like a hunting vest or a parking cone—neon really if I had to describe it. It’s giant too; a spiral bound notebook of the largest available size, stuffed full with papers and notes, well-loved and often used, the binding on the back starting to come unhinged. It’s really quite hard for me to believe, knowing this, that he missed it sitting in his homework bin.
But he did.
My sixth-grade son packed his backpack, walked out the door and went to school without this very important, very bright orange folder.
If I’m honest, my first reaction is not one I’m proud of; my first reaction was one of annoyance. This child, who has my whole heart and then some, is trying each and every morning. It’s a constant battle of “did you brush your teeth?” and “don’t forget your lunch.” And considering he’s almost twelve and now in middle school, I’ve grown a bit weary of the struggle. I was also, if I’m really honest with you, feeling quite selfish. I really didn’t want to get dressed and take that folder in. I really had other things I would much rather be doing. And I really needed the extra cup of coffee I was brewing as I sat and pondered this latest forgotten piece.
But maybe most of all, I knew without a doubt, what others would say about the whole situation. I’ve read a million and one parenting books. I’ve Love and Logic-ed the heck out of my kids. I know I don’t want to be a helicopter mom and I know kids need to learn from their mistakes—natural consequences being much preferred to parent-implemented punishments. I knew that taking that folder up to the school and doing the parental walk of shame would be, by all accounts, potentially enabling future bad habits of forgetfulness and expectations of rescue.
The experts would tell me, in no uncertain terms, that rescuing him would be a big BIG mistake.
Mothers intuition, though, it said something else. It told me to stop and look deeper, to see the full picture; to think about my son. See, I know this child. I know his heart. And more than that, even, I know how much of a struggle he has been through lately.
Middle school has not been easy for him. The transition to sixth grade has highlighted all the areas where he feels less than, areas where his self-esteem was already shaky, have taken hit after hit after hit. He hasn’t had a ton of wins in the halls of this new school, but the losses, they’ve been coming in hot and heavy. And everything has suffered. Middle school is hard for most of us; I don’t know of anyone who would willingly take a trip back to those days, but for him, it’s proving to be near unbearable.
Mothers intuition said he needed a win.
This is the crux of why parenting is so dang hard. I was paralyzed with indecision over this silly folder. Experts everywhere would tell me that taking it into him at school would be enabling him to the 100th degree. Natural consequences (in this case after-school detention for forgetting a simple notebook) are the best teacher. And my job as a parent is to let him experience them and not stand in the way and rescue him. But my expert heart, the one that knows my son so well, tell me that this kid needs a win. He needs to know I’m on his side. That I’ve got his back. In a place where he feels so unsteady and insecure, he needs to know I’m here urging him on to success. He needs to WIN.
So, what’s a mom to do?
Well, this mom packed up that bright orange folder, put on her big girl pants (read: got out of my pajamas) and drove it up to the school. I marched it in, shedding the guilt of enabling with every single step, and dropped it off for him without a word. Because I really do believe kids need to win sometimes and we, as parents, are best poised to recognize when it’s necessary.
We can consult every single parenting book out there. We can speak to expert after expert after expert. We can ask all the questions and seek out every answer. But we can’t, not ever, find all the answers to the unique needs of our own children unless we look into our hearts as well. Our hearts, made explicitly by our Creator, are closest to the situation and our children. We know their needs, their wants, and their unspoken hurts. We know whether they need that folder to make an appearance at their school or if natural consequences are required for long-term success.
We can’t, not ever, find all the answers to the unique needs of our own children unless we look into our hearts as well.
The experts don’t know this. We do.
Sometimes our kids need to win. Life is hard, we all know this. So when they’re facing a series of losses, and you see their confidence sagging and their little hearts hurting, give them a win. Make it up if you have to. But give it to them. It can be small; it can be big. But the trade-off for missing the chance to let natural consequences mold them into good human beings is a child who knows they are infinitely loved and supported by the people who they need it from the most. And that is the biggest win of all.
In case you were wondering, my son didn’t get in trouble that day. He got his folder in time and even, in a vast departure from his normally tween-like behavior, gave me a huge hug when he walked in the door. He was grateful. He knew he was loved. He felt it.
And let me tell you, as I hugged him tight knowing full well how fleeing affection is with growing boys, I knew he wasn’t the only one with a win that day.
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