Can you please bring me my Chromebook?’ Said the text message I received from my eighth-grade son. Out of my three kids, he wasn’t the worst offender for forgetting important items for school at home. His twin sister easily won that prize by texting me to bring her homework, lunch, or gym clothes twice as often as he did. ‘I’m on my way,’ I texted back to my son.
As much as I hated to admit it, these requests had to end. I knew I needed to devise a plan to wean my kids (and myself) off of ‘mom butler services.’ The reason I use the word ‘wean’ is because I’m not the type of person who can spontaneously jump into a cold pool. I’m the one who wades in gradually while my three kids yell at me in unison, “Just dunk your body into the water! Go in already.” Despite their cajoling, I always wade in the water at my own moderate pace.
When my twins were in first grade, the school phone number popped up on caller ID, and I did what any parent does when they see the school phone number, I panicked. Are they hurt? Are they sick? Are they in trouble? I expected to hear the voice of the school principal or a teacher or any type of authority figure at the school but instead, I heard the sound of a six-year-old girl’s voice: “Mom, can you please bring me my homework?” “Of course, sweetie, I’ll be right over.”
And so the butler service began…
Before I drove to the school that first time to drop off my daughter’s forgotten homework, my husband said to me, “Don’t bring it to her.” I thought, really? He was the ‘yes’ man, the one who allowed our kids to climb up that steep wobbling ladder attached to an equally steep slide. He’s the guy that buys them over $50 worth of movie theatre candy because he doesn’t want to say no, they can’t have that much sugar. Does he really want me to say no to something that seemed pretty benign to me?
“She needs to learn to remember to bring it and you bringing her homework doesn’t help her to do that. If you bring it to her, she learns that her mom will always bail her out,” he said. My first reaction to his advice was, ‘What is wrong with her thinking her mom will always bail her out?’ But then after giving it some more thought, I knew he was right.
But I just couldn’t say no to my daughter. Instead, my mama-bear instinct kicked in and I had to protect my daughter from getting into trouble, so I brought her homework to school. And I continued to do so when any of my three children called me because they had forgotten their jacket, lunch, or gym clothes at home; I couldn’t let them freeze, starve, or not participate in physical activities.
Two years ago, I read an article about how a Catholic boys’ school posted a sign on a school door that said: “If you are dropping off your son’s forgotten lunch, books, homework, equipment, etc., please turn around and exit the building. Your son will learn to problem-solve in your absence.” My initial reaction to this was, ‘I wish our school posted that sign for parents because then it would absolve me of my guilt if I didn’t bring my kids their stuff.’ But at the same time, I wanted to be able to help my kids when they asked for my help.
When they were younger, the school allowed my kids to use the phone (before they had a phone of their own) to call me in case of an emergency. If I chose not to bring an item a child requested, I also felt like I was not being supportive of the school.
Now that my twins are in eighth grade, my husband’s sentiments are starting to resonate stronger with me while my protective mama-bear instinct has slowly dissipated. I’m feeling more like a mama bird who needs to nudge my kids out of the comfy, well-insulated nest. In five years, they may be going off to university.
Unless they live at home, I won’t be able to bring their forgotten items to class for them, so I created a sign and taped it to the front door for everyone in the family to see: School Responsibility Plan - Weaning You Off the Mom Butler Services.
You are entitled to three passes for the rest of the school year, so choose wisely. If you choose to use your pass, I will bring your forgotten item to school for you.
Before you walk out the door, did you remember to bring:
Have a wonderful day!
I’m cautiously optimistic this new plan will enable my kids to be more responsible and facilitate an early retirement for ‘Butler Mom.’ I realize it is a growing process for all of us that I need to do at my own moderate pace. There will likely be setbacks when they ask for a forgotten lunch (a mom’s worst fear to have a starving child) but hopefully, we will be able to stay the course.
With any luck, by the time they are in university, I will only have to drive there to see their smiling faces. Unless, of course, they texted me from an unknown number saying, “Mom, can you please bring me my phone?”
I would respond immediately, “I’m on my way.” After all, I need to be able to call them.
Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree. She is married and the mother of twins and a daughter. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, Parents Magazine, Upworthy, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings, and Your Teen. Originally published in Your Teen Magazine.
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