When common sense is not all that common
There he stood near the front door, just a few days into his first week of high school. He had all of his school binders and books stacked in his hands, so high I could barely see his face. Pencils and papers were hanging loosely out of his folders. Without any additional hands available, his instrument, a laptop, and his lunch waited impatiently on the table. How was he going to manage to carry them too?
So I asked what I thought was a helpful and innocent question, “Um. . . where’s your backpack, buddy?” He replied firmly as if he’d prepared ahead for a cross examination, “I can’t bring it. I don’t know where my locker is and I don’t want to ask. The teacher said I can’t bring my backpack, so I’m just going to carry everything like this.” He said it with finality.
He’s 14. Puberty has just recently whirred into action like a jet engine, and I knew that my stubborn little boy-man had made his decision. Clearly a problematic decision. The only way his plan would work was if more things sprouted than puberty normally produces, like two new arms. I needed to fix it. His plan simply wasn’t practical. But I was at a loss how to get him to put all those books into the backpack he’d so clearly resolved he would not be taking to school.
I tried to rummage through the parenting advice I’ve been learning over the past few years, and I’ve learned a lot! Often from my mistakes, and every once in a while from the advice of others (who themselves learned from their mistakes).
I was reminded that he’s a boy and that 14 year old boys ought to desire to exercise their independence. They should be learning to make their own decisions. Remembering what it was like when I was his age immediately generated compassion. Let’s face it, he gets that strong will from somewhere!
The first week of high school is complicated. He was entering a building with over 1500 young people, many of whom would tower over him, reminding him with both their height and hairy faces that he was at the bottom of the pecking order in this new world. Most boys his age prove that common sense is just not all that common. Drowning in testosterone and crippled by fears of insecurity (but unable to show it) these years are hard to navigate for our boys. And not just for them! It may be even harder for us moms to let go and give them the opportunity to fail and succeed, without our ever well intended intervention.
So with this new found wisdom one thing was clear, I could not use the “my way or the highway” approach. I needed to be the adult. And that didn’t mean asserting my authority even though I really wanted to. It meant recognizing this truth: He’s stubborn right now and wanted to make a decision himself. He saw a problem and came up with a solution that he thought was failproof. I had to help us find a compromise that didn’t undermine his growing sense of healthy independance.
After a little back and forth I finally said, “Carry everything you want, but that school-issued laptop can’t leave this house without a backpack.” I guess that seemed reasonable to him so he found a small drawstring bag and dropped the laptop in. I also suggested his pencils would find a better home in the bag than shoved in unusual places on his body. It was a compromise. And honestly it turns out this wasn’t as problematic as I’d thought. Inefficient? Yes. Risky? Yes. Yet three weeks into school and my little guy was making it work. Eventually there came a time when he had to find his locker and the bookbag was resurrected, but it was in his time, not mine.
He is craving to be independent, and at this age I should be helping him do that well. I want that for him too. But it’s such a delicate balance day by day to know when to step in and when to release. So, I’m constantly asking God, “What do I do, Lord?” And without fail, He gives me the peace I need to trust Him for my growing boy. Sometimes it just takes a little time, so be patient and let the learning unfold. Try not to hastily pull out the “or else” card. Time is usually on our side, and the best lessons are often the ones we’ve learned the hard way.