The kids were dropped off, the kitchen cleaned and the laundry started. I was just about to sit down for some quiet time when my phone rang. Breathless and desperate, my twelve-year-old daughter lamented that she’d left her art homework on her desk and begged me to please drive it up to her.
“Don’t rescue her,” cautioned the voice in my head. This voice was honed in the trenches of parenting where we are taught, and not without good reason, to allow kids to learn from their mistakes. And this particular child, bless her heart, surely needs to learn to stop forgetting stuff everywhere she goes.
I told her I’d bring the homework when I picked her up and she would just have to turn it in late. She choked up and insisted she needed it before class. I dug a little deeper as to why it mattered so much. After all, we homeschool. So technically I can excuse the whole assignment and we both know it. She described how part of class time involves sharing your work with the class for peer critiques and it would be embarrassing to have nothing to show. She also worried her teacher would think less of her for forgetting it.
Not wanting her to feel any shame, I launched into a little speech about how her value and self-worth are neither diminished nor defined by her mistakes. I assured her that everyone forgets things from time to time, including mommy. So she could hold her head high and, if asked, just say she forgot it without needing to worry what anyone thought about it. She sighed bravely and said ok. I told her I loved her and hung up.
It felt like a slam dunk as a mom. I didn’t bail her out, so hopefully she’d be less likely to forget her homework in the future. I also gave her a marvelous pep talk about her intrinsic self-worth, served with a healthy dose of empathy and encouragement. But still, something didn’t sit right with me.
If I was being completely honest, part of the reason I didn’t want to bring her the homework had nothing to do with teaching her about self-worth or to learn from her mistakes.
The truth is, I get a measly five and a half hours once per week when my children are all out of the house for homeschool co-op. And while I usually do mundane chores that really aren’t relaxing at all, like vacuuming and laundry, at least I get to do it without anyone chirping in my ear or making a new mess behind me. So I guard this time like a junkyard dog. And I simply didn’t want to be inconvenienced and robbed of my “me” time. Who would fault me for this indulgence? Especially in a culture where self care reigns supreme?
But I pictured the face of this middle child. She is the most empathetic and encouraging member of our family. She will drop everything to rush to someone’s aid, offer a hug and give a word of encouragement. But with her passionate heart and a mind that goes a million miles per hour, she is often misunderstood and reduced to tears of frustration. More often than not, she feels like she can’t win with her siblings. Or even, at times, with her parents. And it occurred to me that maybe there was a better way to remind her of her self-worth than a pep talk. At least this time, anyway.
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Proverbs 3:27
I wandered up to her bedroom and scooped up her books. I noticed art wasn’t the only homework she’d left behind and sighed. But I decided we’d save the hard lesson for another day. Because sometimes kids need to learn from their mistakes. Other times they need a little grace. And this time, my daughter needed to know she was worth me being inconvenienced.
She was sitting in the middle of the front row of her classroom. Knowing she didn’t want to be embarrassed, I considered just leaving her books with the hall monitor instead of interrupting class. But suddenly, she noticed me standing in the doorway. She leapt up and tripped over her chair, obliviously making a scene in her exuberance. She rushed towards me and threw her arms around my neck in gratitude. I slipped her books into her arms, whispered, “I love you,” and gave her a conspiratorial wink, which she retuned with a relieved grin. I backed out of the room, inwardly noting that she didn’t seem embarrassed in the least.
I am so glad I chose to eschew conventional wisdom about parenting and self care and simply showed up for my daughter. Because sometimes, the best way to remind someone of their self-worth is to actually show them they they are worth it. Its what God does for us. And it’s the least we can do for each other.
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18