I think one of the most important things you do as a parent is prepare them for life outside of your home. Real life. Life at work, with friends, with a future partner. Life when it's great and life when it's hard and dark and painful. You teach them their value so they accept no less than the best from their friends and lovers. You teach them respect so they treat others well and expect the same in return. You teach them sticktoittiveness so they learn perseverance and stamina and ability to work through the hard times to get back to the good times.
These are hard lessons to teach kids sometimes. It's so much easier to let them make their every decision in a way that makes them happy at the moment. They don't really understand the hard decisions most of the time, and they think you are being mean by not just letting them get what they want. Instant gratification is okay for tweens, but adults who can't see past the moment at hand are bad employees, selfish friends, and terrible husbands/wives. And the whole job of parenting, in my opinion, is raising solid, happy, productive adults...not overgrown children.
Recently, this has come to a head with one of TJK's friends. It's an ongoing issue and it has come up repeatedly over the years, but now it's becoming a real problem. TJK and her friend are in a 3 week camp together. There was talk of carpooling for drop off and pickup and of all the great aftercare classes offered in this camp.The girls were looking forward to it.
We are now on day four of camp. TJK's friend has not gone to aftercare once, despite her mom telling me that she was going to go every day for at least the first week to see which classes she wanted to take. TJK is disappointed, but she is fine. She has made other friends and is loving aftercare. I am annoyed that I have to do drop off and pick up every day instead of splitting it as I'd hoped, but I'll get over it. No biggie.
The bigger issue to me is the way this kid is allowed to do whatever she wants. She committed to this with my daughter, with me, with her mom - not to mention that her mom paid for it and isn't attending! - and she has been allowed to skip it every day because she feels like it. What lesson is this teaching your child?
A couple of years ago, the girls went to another camp together (again, we were supposed to carpool...). On day one, they walked to a park for lunch and there was a homeless man there, sitting on a park bench. Not for nothing, but this is not unheard of, and if you live in the greater NYC area, it's something you get used to seeing. The man didn't approach or talk to or interact with the kids at all - just sat on the bench. Well, this child was so freaked out on day one that she did not return to camp. At all. Her mother allowed her to bail because she was uncomfortable at a park with a group of 20 kids and several counselors and one homeless man. She allowed her to ditch camp completely, leaving TJK and me in a lurch.
Even this past weekend, we had plans to go away with girl and her mom (we are good friends with them, honestly, and I do love the mom). We bought tickets to an event, made hotel reservations, laid out our plan of attack for the drive and our time away. They did go with us, but at one point the mom said to me, "I was so afraid she was going to get up this morning and say she was too tired to go and we would have to cancel."
If TJK got up and said she was too tired, I would tell her to take a nap in the car because we have plans and money had already been spent. It would never occur to me that I should cancel or rearrange our plans because of what TJK wants or doesn't want at that moment. She is involved in the decision-making process, but once she commits, she is committed.
I get that it's easier to allow your kids to run the show, and that it's not fun when you have to say no and they get mad at you. It's hard to have the center of your universe angry with you and think you are mean and, even worse, not cool. But that's parenting. It's not easy.
I feel badly for TJK, who had these three weeks of camp planned out with her friend and now has to rearrange and reset her expectations. She asked me if she, too, could skip aftercare because her friend was skipping. I told her no. She committed to going and she is going to go. And she was not happy with me and I can live with that. I know that her being miserable today is teaching her something valuable: that you stand by what you say and you do what you said you were going to do. In a few years, I know these lessons will pay off. And I am afraid that her friend will be left expecting the world to curve to her will and not knowing how to cope when it refuses to.