Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On Forgotten Lunches

Returning home from the mad shuffle that is morning carpool, I walk into the kitchen and find a lonely brown lunch bag sitting on the counter. Sigh. A certain someone has forgotten his lunch.

The boys’ school is a mere two-minute drive away, but I choose not to run back with the wayward lunch.

Several years ago neighbors we respect introduced us to Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay. This parenting approach strives to raise responsible kids by placing a heavy emphaisis on natural consquences.

Too many parents today, the authors purport, are helicopter parents, hovering around and bailing out their kids at every turn. With the older two, in particular, we try to avoid bailing. Sometimes this works; sometimes it backfires.

Take the kid who has a tendency to forget his lunch. I don’t scurry after him and bring it to school. Problem is, all his friends chip in and my boy tucks into finer fare than I ever pack.

Then there’s the issue of P.E. clothes. Elementary students who don’t dress out spend a chunk of class writing sentences. Fine with me. Not so this year for our son who has moved on to middle school. I told someone again and again to remember his P.E. clothes only to find his bag hanging on a chair when I returned from drop-off.

Anxious to hear the middle school penalties, I made a few casual inquiries.

“So,” I asked, “Did you write sentences?”

“No,” he said, “We’re having, like, three months of mercy.”

I inwardly groaned. Talking to Dave later, he, too, wondered about the old natural consequences.

“They’ve declared a year of jubilee,” I replied.

When I say “I inwardly groaned”, I probably sound rather heartless. I take no joy in doing all this, but I agree with the Love and Logic folks: life is full of natural consequences. We do our children no favors by shielding them from these consequences.

The Love and Logic authors call the consequences of today “significant learning events.” They encourage kids to learn responsibility in small fits and starts while under your roof. Children pay a small price for their youthful mistakes (a bad grade, a missed meal, a bounced check) and hopefully avoid paying adult consequences later (flunking-out, bankruptcy, jail). Love and Logic encourages early independence with pre-paid credit cards and pay-as-you-go cell phones.

The system is not merciless. If we have had an unusual morning, sickness, or an unforeseen problem, I willingly tote the lunch or clothes or whatever up to school. But as a rule, we don’t bail.

For the younger set – i.e. two-year-old John - Love and Logic focuses on what the authors call “German Shepherd commands.” Come. Go. Sit. Stand. No doubt the term “German Shepherd” would offend many parents’ sensibilities when applied to training tender young ones.

Try it out, though. A typical conversation around here goes something like this:

Me, cheerfully: We sit down to eat our mac and cheese, John.
Me, firmly: John, sit down if you want to eat.
Me, determined: John, sit.
Me, frustrated: Sit now!
Me: Sit!

We start with the niceties, but quickly distill conversation down to what could accurately be captured by the term “German Shepherd Commands.”

We are working hard on teaching John to come when he’s called. We share a common backyard with fifteen other families – no fences, acres of wide open space to run. This is all very good, of course, once you’ve mastered the idea that the street is bad, very bad. I am not sure that we are there yet and even the Love and Logic people draw the line at some natural consequences.

The other issue is that I can’t scoop up eight-month-old Ainsley and go tearing across this enormous yard simply because John won’t come when he is called. Coming when you’re called is not optional.

The other day I called John and was most impressed when he yelled, “I’m coming!” He then proceeded to dash in the opposite direction. As I said, a work in progress.

How does all this Love and Logic pan out in the long run? Our oldest is 12. Look for a follow-up in about a decade.

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