When I taught 4th grade in public school, back in the 1900’s, I had a student who was absent from school at least once a week. He had a hard time keeping up with assignments, so I scheduled a meeting with him and his mother. She revealed to me in the meeting that he was absent so often because there were days she just couldn’t convince him to get up and get in the car to get to school, so she really had no choice except to let him stay home.
I was shocked. She couldn’t convince him to get up? We’re talking about a 10 year old here. I silently wondered what she had in store when he became a teenager.
I turned to “Jared” in the meeting. “Do you want to pass 4th grade this year? Or do you want to repeat it next year while all your friends go on to 5th grade? You are a smart boy, but you can not continue to miss school each week and get all of your work done.”
He assured me that he wanted to pass, so I felt like we had reached an understanding and hopefully an end to the problem.
Surprisingly, though, he was not at school bright and early the next morning. Around 9:30 his mother knocked at my classroom door and this conversation followed:
Mother: “I was able to talk Jared into getting up and dressed and in the car, but when we got to the parking lot he refused to get out.”
Mother: “I don’t know how to convince him to get out of the car. What should I do?”
Me: “Class, everyone write your spelling words 3 times each. I will be right back.” (walks out to parking lot with a confident stride.)
Mom: (opens car door timidly) “Jared? Do you remember that Mother has to go to work today? Do you want Mother to be late for work again? Don’t you want to go to school? Won’t you please get out of the car, Jared?”
Jared: (arms crossed, unmoved)
Me: (eyebrows raised, leaning in, assertively) “Jared, get out of this car. Now. You still have time to practice your spelling words before the test. Now, get going and quit wasting our time!”
Jared: (gets out of car and goes to school)
Since that interaction 18 or so years ago, I have noticed that it is quite fashionable for mothers to persuade, cajole, beg, and ask their children very politely if they won’t pretty please obey them.
Sometimes this is called “picking your battles” or “modeling good choices”.
Mothers, I am giving you permission today and from hence forth to tell, not beg, your children what to do, without apology.
You do not need to be Careful Mother, in order to preserve your child’s delicate feelings or self esteem. You can be Assertive Mother, created by God to be in charge of your child’s safety and well being, and still be a warm, sensitive, loving mother with a confident, secure child.
I have seen similar scenarios played out time after time, and I wonder if the mother knows that she is making her life more difficult than it has to be and that she is not doing her child any great favors by bestowing upon him power that he isn’t ready to wield.
Here is another true story of a conversation I witnessed while standing in the crowded aisle of a movie theater waiting for a Careful Mother to convince her 3 year old to move from the aisle seat so she could sit by the baby in the infant carrier. I have included the dialogue an Assertive Mother would have used.
Now, I can already envision the emails I will receive from those of you thinking, “That Smockity is so insensitive! She doesn’t understand that my child has OCD/ADD/ODD/ADHD/INSERTLETTERSHERE!”
What you may or may not know, and I’m sure that most of you don’t, is that I have some of my very own children with some of their very own letters. I still manage to state what I want them to do and have them obey it in as few words as necessary.
Being Assertive Mother doesn’t have to mean you are less loving than Careful Mother. It means you are confident in your role of authority and you are not afraid to tell your child what to do.