My eldest had already left the school gates. He’d rushed off as soon as the bell went, so that he could make it to his volleyball club at another school.
I left school with the younger two a few minutes later, at a more leisurely pace. It was then that I saw it.
The bike: locked up, at least. But left in the schoolyard, nevertheless.
My mind flashed back to the conversation over breakfast:
‘Can I take my bike this morning, Mum?’
‘Yep, but you need to remember to take it on with you to volleyball. Don’t leave it at school.’
‘Ok, I’ll make sure I take it.’
And there I was, just a few hours later, staring at said bike. I rang him to tell him he needed to come back for it.
‘But, Mum,’ the protests went. ‘I’m with my friends and I’m nearly there now. Can’t you bring it back for me?’
‘No,’ I replied. ‘We talked about this, this morning. I’m not doing it for you.’
[several huffing and puffings later he agrees to it and hangs up the phone.]
For a split-second, I felt like Mrs-Mean-Mum. Technically, I had the resource and capacity to take the bike home for him. I didn’t have any bags; I could even have ridden it myself. And, because one of my love languages is ‘acts of service’*, and also because I don’t like arguments, in many ways it would have been easier for me to just unlock the bike and bring it home myself. I’d have fixed the problem, ‘cared’ for my son, and avoided an argumentative conversation. But a ‘happy’ me and a ‘happy’ son, was, in this case, a short-term solution, which wouldn’t sow into my son the values I want him to carry.
My strongest conviction, therefore, was that in reality I was being kind to him. I wasn’t fixing it for him, but that was actually his greatest need.
In real life, the life we’re trying to prepare our kids for, people don’t go round fixing everything for us. We have to learn to be responsible, to fix our own messes, and to do the hard work.
As our ten-year-old is taking greater strides towards independence we’re regularly bandying the phrase ‘freedom and responsibility’ around.
If I’d taken the bike for him I would have implicitly been teaching him that he can have greater freedom without taking an equal measure of responsibility.
Looking into the future I know there’ll be scenarios that carry much more weight and have much graver consequences than this, so I want him to both feel the consequence of his actions and learn to take responsibility now, whilst the repercussions and the consequences are relatively minimal.
Strangely enough, he didn’t leave his bike at school the following week. #LessonLearnt #ForNowAnyhow
*Gary Chapman – The Five Love Languages http://www.5lovelanguages.com/