This summer, as in the past, the Teen has a job taking care of a dog while its owners are away. He has to make sure the dog has food and water and let the animal out into the backyard at least twice a day. Creatively, on days when he can’t or won’t do it, he’s subcontracted his little sister (accompanied by me) to do it for him. It was going well, until I received this phone call while he was at our neighbors’ house this morning:
“Mom, the dog pooped on the rug. What do I do?”
Now, you may think he honestly didn’t know what to do, but this was not the case. We’ve had dogs, we now have a cat and he’s seen me clean up fecal matter a million times. What he was really saying was:
“Mom, I don’t FEEL like cleaning up the dog’s mess. I know how to do it, but I want YOU to come and clean the poop up FOR me.”
I calmly explained what to do, aware that we both knew how to do it. I took a few deep breaths when he suggested that he leave it (so that the DOG could clean up its own mess?!), and firmly, but gently, told him that part of his job was dealing with the easy and harder aspects of caring for an animal. Lastly, I told him that I was confident that he could do it. 15 minutes later, he arrived home, ticked at me for not baling him out, but no worse for having scooped the poop.
Was I cruel in not running to his aid? I don’t think so. As we all know, our kids need to deal with the clean and messier aspects of life. They need to know that part of receiving a salary is working for it. They need to experience the pride what comes from facing a challenge and conquering it. Had I baled him out, I would not have taught him anything and deprived him of the opportunity to grow.
The next time he faces a pile of unpleasantness that he, deep down, knows he can handle, he won’t call me so quickly. And if he does, I will encourage and talk him through it, just as I did this time, but not make it my responsibility. It’s important for me (to let go and encourage his independence) and crucial for him on the road to maturity.