Hey parents out there.
Yeah. I’m talking to you. The ones who said you would never let your kids eat McDonald’s in the back seat. Or listen to kid music. Or do that cliché’ discipline tactic where you yell, “I’m going to count to three and then I’m going to (insert horrible, irrational, overblown punishment here).”
Well, stop scrubbing that ketchup stain on the upholstery, mute “The Wheels on the Bus,” and shut you’re your big yapper. Because I have something to say and you’d better listen up.
Turn the music off.
Now. Don’t make me say it again. I’m going to count to three, and it better be off or you’ll never have candy ever again. For the rest of your life. Never. I don’t care if the whole world blows up and the only food left is candy. You’re not eating it. You hear me?
OK. That’s better. Now that I have your attention, I’m gonna’ lay some wisdom down on you and not even charge you for it. Here goes.
Stop protecting your kids.
You heard it right. Stop. Protecting. Your. Kids.
Before I start sounding like an overbearing know-it-all, please realize that I am actually talking to myself. Any resemblance to your own neurotic parenting style is purely coincidental.
This past week brought a perfect storm of challenges to the Year Without A Purchase. All of them child-induced. And all had us questioning whether this whole ordeal is making us bad parents.
For starters, Jake’s tennis shoes are on life support. The soles are ripping off, and the side is developing a gaping hole, as if my son has the feet of an 87-year-old man with huge bunions and an extra pinkie toe protruding out.
He asked, “Can I get some new shoes after school today, daddy?”
I replied, “But son, you HAVE other shoes. The black ones.”
“But I don’t like those shoes.”
“You don’t have to like ‘em. The job of shoes is to protect your feet. These are shoes.”
“But they aren’t the right shoes. They are summer shoes.”
“Summer is coming fast.”
“Not until June. June 21st. You said so.”
Even though my son remembered the correct date of the summer solstice like he was channeling Rainman, we did not reward him with a new pair of sneakers.
Besides the shoes, the zippers on both his backpack and lunch box broke this week. The school requires an insulated pack so kids don’t eat room-temperature turkey sandwiches and turn the place into a salmonella factory. His is barely functional. He wants to leave it half-zipped until it finally falls apart. Luckily, we have another one he can use. The problem? It’s a lovely paisley-floral print.
I hope he’s ready to set some new first grade fashion trends.
As for the backpack, it’s a goner. But we have a backup. Gabby got it at a trade show over twenty years ago. How do we know the exact age of the pack, you ask? Because it has the date written right on it. 1989. I stuffed it full of his school gear and laid it in the hallway.
He asked,“What’s this?”
“It’s your new backpack, son.”
“But I didn’t pick it.”
“I know. Mom did.”
He pointed to the clover-like graphic between the words “Yak-Pak” and asked, “What’s this funny shape?”
“I don’t know.”
After twenty questions about the coolness of the pack and the definition of the word “new”, he lost interest in arguing the point and changed the subject.
But the topper this weekend was the March Madness basketball tournament. No, not the one that generates squillions of dollars of revenue and makes Vegas oddsmakers giddy. We’re talking about the no-holds-barred basketball slug-fest at Montessori Academy in Nashville. The one pitting first-grader against first-grader to establish worldwide bragging rights for generations to come. NBA scouts in attendance. Corporate sponsorship deals going down in the hallways.
Or so you might think if you saw me yelling like an idiot in the stands.
As a fun way to celebrate the end-of-season tournament, the other kids’ parents had purchased these really cool red camouflage Air Jordan socks for their players. Gabby and I struggled with the decision. Do we get some for our kid? Sure, we have $13. We don’t want him to feel left out. But it’s not part of the standard uniform.
So Jake wore white. The only one.
We carried around some heavy guilt over these decisions. I asked myself, “Is this cruel? Have we gone overboard?” I didn’t respond to either question. I’m not sure I want to know the answer.
Because we’ve all lived through childhood and know how cruel kids can be. We’ve all shed tears after taunts, left feeling inadequate. You didn’t have the latest shoes or the latest style. You looked different. Acted different. Laughed different.
And it sucked big time. We all wear the scars.
So the question is, if you have the ability to buy a few things and protect your child from this heartache and choose not to, are you the one doing the scarring?
The answer is, “No.”
Stop. Protecting. Your. Kids.
By protecting our kids in this way, we only help perpetuate the idea that what you own is a measure of who you are. We cover them up with so much shiny junk that it’s virtually impossible to see the person inside.
And we drown out the God-voice inside each and every one of them. The voice that says I’m uniquely and beautifully made. The voice that doesn’t hear the put-downs and taunts because it’s too busy shouting,
“I love you”
“I made you.”
“You’re more than enough.”
When we protect our kids in this way, we deprive them of disappointment. Disappointment that forges faith in something bigger than today. Bigger than the present or the presents. A resolve that bubbles up from deep within, making us stronger day-by-challenging day.
Because Jake got used to his summer shoes. His friend Yusuf said his backpack looked like a “leprechaun bag,” but went on playing with him anyway. And by the time the next basketball game rolled around, stubborn stains, stinky kids and laundry schedules had all the other players in mis-matched pairs once again.
I realize that we may be simply justifying our own lunacy. Rationalizing away the guilt of watching our kids struggle.
We’re taking their lives out of our own hands and placing them in God’s.
Back where they belong.