Saving Our Kids, At Every Turn

By Bethany Meyer

Bethany MeyerSchool is the place to be right now. My kids are experiencing magic at their school. Teachers know and celebrate the students. Curriculum is rigorous. Technology is embraced. Design based thinking is explored. Character education is emphasized. Community outreach is in place. The school they attend was recently featured in a magazine in celebration of its Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. My husband and I immediately shared a parenting high five, confident that our four sons will eventually grow up to be kind, independent thinkers … able to solve their own problems and eventually move out of our house and contribute to society.

The director of this innovative program has a son in class with one of my boys. My husband and I recently talked with him about the CEL program and what it looks like inside the classrooms of our youngest children. At its core, it’s not about creating miniature business minds. It’s about encouraging kids to take intellectual risks, asking them to experiment, allowing them to fail, then equipping them with the tools to pick themselves up and move forward.

“It looks like parents not saving their kids,” he told us. And we smiled. Because don’t we all know those parents? Helicopter parents. The ones who hover around saving their kids from experiencing discomfort in their young lives.

A week after speaking with him, I stood on campus. Strategically placed between the locker room and the soccer field. The director hurried past on his way to teaching a class, recognized me, and greeted me warmly.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

Behind my back, I clutched the pair of white socks that I had dropped everything to run out and purchase for my 12-year-old-son, who absolutely had to have them for a game that would begin in T-17 minutes. I lifted the socks up for him to see. And hung my head in shame.

“I’m failing your program,” I announced, “and saving my son.”

That’s when I realized … I’m one of those parents.

I save my kids.

Too frequently.

Every morning when I lay out their clothes for school, I save them.

When I drive them to school every day so they can sleep later than riding the bus would allow, I save them.

When, despite my repeated reminders, they forget their gloves on a cold day, I reach into my handbag to extract and hand over my very favorite pair of running gloves that will never be seen or heard from again…

When I sort, fold, and put away their laundry…

When I labor in the kitchen over a delicious home cooked meal, then place buttered noodles in front of one picky eater and cereal in front of the other picky eater…

When I remind them that tomorrow is library day and tell them where their library books are scattered in various parts of our crowded house…

When I intervene with his brothers on behalf of my third son every time he cries because I feel this boy’s heartbreak so keenly…

There I go again…..

Saving them at every turn.

I do things for my kids that go well beyond the scope of what is necessary. Am I in good company? You bet I am. Do I do it because I love them? Absolutely. Is it consistent with my goal to raise them to be kind, independent thinkers, who are able to solve their own problems and eventually move out of my house and contribute to society? Not in the least.

I am not doing my children or myself any favors by saving them to the extent that I do. So I made a conscious decision to be more aware of my behavior. And I made a silent commitment to encourage them to be more mindful of their behavior.

I didn’t have to wait long for my first opportunity to be a parent who doesn’t always save her children. So goes it in a house with four boys.  One day, I tripped on my oldest son’s science textbook, abandoned on my living room rug in the middle of the school day.

Uh-oh. He forgot his book.

I pulled out my phone, prepared to email him that I was on my way to school for a meeting, and that I’d drop his textbook at the front desk for him.  

But I caught myself.

“Stop it, Bethany. Stop saving him,” I said aloud. I looked at his textbook, shook my head, and proceeded to the front door without it.

Instead I texted my husband, “I refuse to drive our son’s textbook to school. I win at parenting!” Because some days the most valuable lesson can be found in the place we least expect it. In my case, a forgotten textbook on the floor.

Later that evening, I pulled my oldest son away from his brothers and into the living room. I pointed at his textbook, still lying on the floor, and crossed my arms. He looked at me quizzically.

In a quiet voice, I said, “I had a meeting at school earlier today, and I could have taken this book with me. But I chose not to.  And it’s not because I don’t love you. It’s because I do love you. But I have to stop saving you. Otherwise, you’ll never learn to save yourself.”

He remained unusually quiet.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” I asked.

“That textbook is supposed to stay home,” he answered with a shrug.


That’s not important.

Semantics, really.

What is important is that I continue my effort to raise kind, independent thinkers. Boys who will take intellectual risks, experiment, fail on occasion, and persevere.

Boys who, I hope, will grow into resilient men.

And, if I stay the course, they may actually move out of my house. And contribute to society.

For now, school is where they belong. That’s where the magic is happening.

 *   *   *

Have you considered the role resilience plays in your child’s readiness to navigate the world beyond school? How do you see it in play both in your home and at school?

Bethany Meyer lives in Philadelphia with her husband and their four young sons.  Her work has been featured in the Parents section of the Huffington Post. Read more of Bethany’s work on her blog, I Love Them the Most When They’re Sleeping, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter



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  • Nancy Vona

    I love this essay! So true and so funny. Love the repetition of “able to solve their own problems and eventually move out of our house and contribute to society.” That’s what we all aim for but it’s difficult to sit back and not always “save” our kids. Thank you for writing this.

  • Teri

    Bethany, this post had me thinking and laughing at myself, because I’ve done the exact same thing. I’ve driven shoes to school because one kid will have to sit out a basketball game if she doesn’t have her shoes. And I’ve bitched at moaned at them for leaving text books at home and been told that they’re not supposed to bring those text books to school. I feel you pain, my friend!! And I know how hard it is NOT to save them.

  • Nina

    This was so well said and relatable. Had to laugh that the book was supposed to stay home. But it’s still a win because you didn’t know that and easily could have brought it with you. I go through these little decisions all the time of when to step and when to leave things alone. It’s hard with really little kids in the house because I have to do things for the smallest two, which allows the bigger two to get away with doing less.

  • Beeg

    Great topic. Growing up in HK and in a very strict Chinese family, I cannot help but compare how the 2 cultures are different when it comes to raising children. My parents didn’t hug or kiss their kids, and when we were little, we viewed them as gods, where we feared and afraid to even disobey them. My parents made us do everything around the house since we were seven, including using a knife, heating up water (no running hot water in HK) and changing diapers (not help change diapers, but be the one to change diapers). I drew water for my 2 baby sisters’ bath, cared for them while my mother shopped for food, made their formula, hand washed all their dirty cloth diapers, and washed dishes. If we wanted to call our friends to confirm a homework assignment, my father would say no, that if our friends knew it, then we should have known it too.

    Now raising my own child here in the US, I don’t agree on everything my parents did. Yes, I was independent but didn’t have a fun childhood. I got straight A’s but didn’t learn to socialize until I came to the US. I don’t want my child to fear me, but I don’t want to be her friend either. I want my child to learn to be independent without forgetting to have fun. Yet, when she misbehaves in school (she’s in kindergarten) or when she throws tantrums when we say no, sometimes I wish I would revert to the Chinese way of teaching her.

    I did try to weave in some of my parents’ methods. If she doesn’t put her shoes by the door, she is on her own in finding them. She often takes off her gloves and leaves them anywhere instead of in her coat pockets, so she now goes without gloves if we can’t find them. If she isn’t ready by the time the school bus comes, she’ll have to get on it in whatever outfit she’s in.

    Kids don’t come with an instruction manual, and we parents want to do the best for our children. What is “BEST” is often a moving target. I do sometimes borrow a few things from the Tiger Mom. Not that I agree with everything she did, but at least now I know I am not the toughest mom to my child.

  • Bethany Thies

    Wonderful, funny and smart. You’re so consistently amazing.

  • Kristen

    So much to relate to here, Bethany! I’m still in the savior stage – and the worst of it is that, even though I know it’s enabling my kids in a negative way, I secretly congratulate myself for doing it because I love the sound of those little voices saying thank you. Pathetic. This essay was a wake-up call for me. Thank you for that.

  • Stan Parker

    As a high school teacher (41 years), I have seen over and over the chance for parents to “let go” and allow their children grow, learn through failure (a textbook at home etc) and I cry for those students whose mom or dad will “save’ their child as they will never learn to save themselves. A small disappoint (or failure) is NOT the end of the world but the long term gain is immense. I can only hope that Bethany’s essay will convince parents that a small stumble along the way pays dividends far beyond being saved from a small “failure”. Well done, Bethany!

  • Amanda Magee

    Love it. I did drive B’s folder to her the other day, something in the way that she asked. I know I need to not save her (so much.)

    I figure that every once in a while I owe her one, because she sure as heck did some saving of me.

  • ddfalvo

    “It’s about encouraging kids to take intellectual risks, asking them to experiment, allowing them to fail, then equipping them with the tools to pick themselves up and move forward.” Oh–amen. Equip them with this and they have the tools to weather life through any storm.

    Laughed so hard over the science book scene–way to balance a serious and important piece. :D

  • Shary Hauber

    Great lesson that is hard to learn as a parent. Once I didn’t insist my 6th grade daughter do her home work. After three weeks she came crying to me “Why didn’t you make me do my home work” “Because you are old enough to do it yourself” She never missed her homework again and I didn’t miss having to remind her.