“Oh, that’s a cute shirt.” I set down my coffee cup. “Where did you get it?”
My daughter spins, showing me the back. “Paxton gave it to me,” she replies, referencing one of the many second cousins she has on her father’s side of the family.
I think no more about it until I’m checking the credit card bill a few weeks later. There are some charges for clothes from a popular and expensive teen store. These are clothes I didn’t order from a store I do not order from. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to quickly figure out that my normally straight-laced teenager is trying to pull a fast one.
“Here’s the deal,” I tell her that night at dinner. “I’m really disappointed that you lied to me. So your phone lives with me for the next seven days. Don’t worry, you won’t have time to be on it anyway.”
And that’s how Quisenberry Chore Camp started. For a week, my teenager woke at 6:00 and put in a full day’s work. She cleaned out the garage. Weeded the flowerbeds. Mopped the floors. Reorganized the pantry. Took out every pot and pan, cleaned the inside of the cabinets, and restocked them. Detailed our cars. Cleaned the windows. Trained the dog. Made dinner. She dusted, organized, scrubbed, sprayed, wiped, and scoured until she was exhausted enough to go to bed by 9:00 pm. We actually ran out of jobs and loaned her out to my parents to help clean their house. We wanted to make sure she fully comprehended where we stand on lying in this house.
Her behavior is totally normal. In fact, David and I were secretly relieved that our little rule follower had finally tested some limits. Research shows that most teens fudge the truth about all kinds of things; their prefrontal cortexes are not yet developed, so they often cannot predict the effects of their behaviors. This results in questionable choices, followed by lying in an attempt to wiggle out of trouble.
I know that you cannot punish someone into good behavior. Quisenberry Chore Camp was my cover story. What I was really doing was giving her an opportunity to do some soul searching without the ubiquitous distractions of Netflix or iTunes.
So a few weeks later, I’m sharing this tale with some other mothers, most of whom are a decade younger than me. One mom’s response really got my goat.
“Oh my gosh! You are so mean! If you had bought her the name-brand clothes in the first place, she wouldn’t have felt like she had to lie. I mean, if she lied, what does that say about your parenting skills?”
I sat there, fuming. Somehow, it is my fault that my daughter had fibbed? I am scarring my child by asking her to wear clothes from Target and Old Navy? I should be shamed for helping my daughter course correct? No, no, and no. I defended myself, but this mom wasn’t having it. She held that every decision kids make is a direct reflection of their parents. So if Izzie acts out, it is because I have somehow failed as a parent (and not because she’s a completely normal human being who occasionally acts like a ding dong).
It’s a perfect example of “lawnmowing.” A “lawnmower” is a mom who attempts to fulfill their child’s every wish and desire (no matter how insane) so that their children never have to experience frustration, disappointment, or pain. They will do things for their kids, even when the child is developmentally equipped to handle things on their own, going to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure. They “mow down” obstacles so kids won’t experience them in the first place.
In raising kids without struggle, we will not build a generation of happy, well-adjusted adults. If we do not teach our children that there are consequences to their behavior, we raise self-centered brats who are entitled and unaware. If we enable our kids now, we disable them in the future. Kids need to experience discomfort so that they can learn to work through it and develop problem-solving skills and resiliency. But resiliency has to be taught and practiced.
One of the best ways to cultivate resiliency in our kids is by normalizing it when they make mistakes. I told my daughter, “Look, that was a dumb thing you did. We all do dumb things. It doesn’t make you dumb. But you do have to make it right. Here are the consequences.” Then I give her the opportunity to have some screen-free quiet time to think her thoughts and feel her feelings.
My child wasn’t permanently scarred by having to scrub some toilets. In fact, I occasionally sat nearby while she worked and we had some great conversations about character, honesty, and growing up. It’s important to me that her future self knows how to fold laundry and make scrambled eggs. But it’s more important to me that her future self be honest and resilient.