A couple of months ago, my oldest son told me that I tend to "freak out" over little things. I was shocked. I told him I'd always made a conscious effort to be calm about grades, friends, forgetfulness, messy bedrooms, long hair, and every other minor teenager issue that can be blown completely out of proportion. So I've made an even greater effort since then because, above all else, I don't want my kids to ever be afraid to talk to me. So last night I asked him if he felt I'd been "freaking out" a little less. He kind of shrugged and said, "Sometimes, if we mess up on something, rather than letting us fix it, you say, 'Never mind. I'll take care of it myself.' You don't give us the chance to make it right."
Example: Last week, he spilled quite a bit of milk in the fridge. I was sitting nearby and as I got up, he said, "I'll take care of it." I groaned and said, "No. It's fine. I've got it." Then I cleaned up the mess instead.
I explained to him last night that me cleaning up the mess is my way of letting him know I'm not angry even if I'm frustrated. I've always felt not that he's incapable of making things right, but rather that I don't mind making things right so he can move on.
But I told him I was sorry and that in the future, I'd back off and let him clean up his own messes.
Obviously, I've thought about this conversation a lot, or I wouldn't be writing about it now.
I'm a mom. You can throw any other labels on to me that may fit--wife, editor, daughter--but the one I've fought for the hardest and struggled with the most is "mom." And I take that label seriously. I agonize over my kids and over making the right decisions about and for them. And although my oldest is 14 now, I still have this overarching need to protect all of them--sometimes from the world and sometimes from myself. I've been doing this for so long--preventing messes and cleaning them up--that I haven't realized that they're trying to prevent and clean up their own as they get older.
And they need to. For several reasons. I know that. They need to see they can't always rely on someone else to do it for them. But more importantly, they need to know they're capable of this--of screwing up and recovering and moving on. They need to be able to make things right or they'll never feel it's okay when make them wrong in the first place.