My best friend once said, “My third child is the kid I wouldn’t let my first child play with.”
First children are often brought into a world of wooden blocks and organic, homemade baby food. SpongeBob is too edgy—only PBS for that one, if they’re allowed screens at all. They soak up our youthful energy and enthusiasm—and oftentimes, in return, we get pseudo-adult, responsible, cautious children.
Our last children are different. I mean, all children are different, right? Just when you think you have it figured out, a new one comes along that is completely the opposite of the one you just got the hang of. But our last children are sometimes more carefree, more apt to put their toe just up the very edge of that line and see if anyone notices if they cross it. They’re made of hand-me-downs from older siblings, and store-bought cupcakes at school parties. Because we’re tired.
That third child we laughed about that day? He’s her child who ended up being the most self-sufficient. He graduated high school with great grades, grit, and even woke himself up for school and got there without a mom-alarm-clock. He just left for college, after working with his counselor to choose a list of schools, filling out applications, and meeting deadlines—all while juggling his senior year of school and varsity basketball. He scheduled his college vaccinations and got them by himself, then uploaded the information to his new college. His mom was in amazement at all of the things she didn’t have to do.
This is the goal, moms. We sniff their round baby heads, take photos of every first day of school, plan themed birthday parties, pack lunches, deliver forgotten schoolbooks—but in the end, the goal is the same: launching a self-sufficient young person, who we hope comes home just the right amount but doesn’t take up residence in the basement playing Xbox permanently.
So when I asked our team of college planners at Class 101 Franklin what I should write about for this month’s Music City Moms column, the answer was swift: Teach your child accountability and responsibility at a young age, and you’ll reap those rewards later.
If your jam is packing your kids’ lunches and your love language is cutting off the crusts, do it. You’re a bed maker from way back? It’s great. No one wants to take away the little things that you love to do for your children.
What we want to teach are life skills. They start small, and grow with maturity, and stick with your kids because they become habits—intrinsically part of who they are. And when it’s high school, time to apply to colleges, and yes, time to leave the nest (which may seem so very far away), you’ll all be happy that you started early.
“Teach your child accountability now, and it will pay off in high school,” says Class 101 Franklin college planner and test prep coach Jeanne Fain, who also founded Real Life GPA. In this case, GPA stands for Goals, Plans, Action, rather than grade point average, as she helps struggling young people launch from high school to college and the work force.
“As parents, we may feel like it’s ‘mean’ or unreasonable to make our kids earn their way. Who doesn’t want to take care of and make things easier for their children?” says Fain. “But not teaching kids to take ownership or be independent is a huge disservice to them.”
Mom of four, Kristen Melichar, is a preschool teacher and Class 101 Franklin college planner, who’s read college essays and applications for Vanderbilt University and Colgate University. Not only does she encourage moms to let toddlers hang up their own backpacks and jackets as they start school for the first time, but she also works with teenagers who have their own areas of self-reliance to learn.
“It’s important to give kids more responsibility as they get into middle school and high school,” says Melichar. “They need to be the ones advocating for themselves with teachers, communicating when they have a problem or question. That’s the time for us to take a step back as parents so our kids can become comfortable with solving their own problems. It’s not only teaching responsibility and learning to communicate well, but they gain a sense of confidence and accomplishment that they can handle issues respectfully, and hopefully see a positive outcome.”
Beth Koehler has been a Class 101 Franklin college planner since the franchise’s inception in 2014, working with over 100 students during that time. She’s also a former preschool teacher, and the mom of three accomplished daughters (graduate school at Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, and Wesley Theological Seminary).
Beth’s advice? Allow your children to fail. “There are lessons to be learned from failure—the ones that stick with us the most usually come from those tough places. We want to smooth the path for our kids and teach them what we learned from our own difficult situations, so they don’t have to experience it. But if we can just let them fail, that’s where they’ll grow.”
My own favorite word that my two boys have heard repeatedly (and I feel sure will use on their own children one day) is “consequences.” We all have them—no matter what age we are. Our actions and our words have consequences, and the older you get, the tougher those consequences can be. We’ve all been there—and we don’t learn unless we reap the benefits or the punishments of our actions.
Forgot a homework assignment and got a zero? Consequence. Had to take the zero, or step up to negotiate an accommodation to be able to have it turned in late at a lower grade? Life lesson. Learning to wash your own sheets or make the blue box of Kraft mac & cheese? Life skill.
And, of course, what a mom reward!