When Good Parenting Means Doing Less

I write about parenting as an art because that’s the metaphor that makes sense to me. Art is first about skill and basic principles, but it’s also about taste and preference. Too often I assume what is working for me would work for everyone. Not so. Heck, as they say, what works for one of my kids doesn’t even necessarily work for the other three! I say that to make sure you know that when I share about my parenting philosophy practice I’m mostly just trying to share about what’s working for me. I’m not trying to tell you how to do it. (You already have plenty of people in your life doing that, and I might change my mind next month anyway.)

Claire is in summer school this month. I know, mean ol’ me forcing Claire to miss out on the traditional joys of a care-free summer break! To be fair, this program is more of a transition jump-start than remedial academic help. The students go on “missions” in which they have to follow clues to find designated spots in different classrooms and other school spaces (call this interactive tours for 100 kids in their new middle school that will eventually be crammed with 700+). They have relay races in which teams stand in front of lockers and take turns working the combinations (and apparently Claire is far from being the only incoming 7th grader who hasn’t quite mastered this skill yet).

Biggest challenge: she’s riding the bus for the first time. I know, the bus! What am I thinking?! First I put her in public school and now I put her on the bus?! Now you know I’ve lost it.

Here’s what I was thinking. Pick-up at her elementary school was the most difficult concern for Claire on almost any day. She would make trips to the nurse at 10 a.m. because she got herself so worked up about whether or not I’d be standing at the right door after school at 4 p.m. Some mornings she was already crying before school thinking about the afternoon plan. We tried different approaches – from ignoring her to arriving 15+ minutes early to be sure she could see us from the classroom window – but none of it was fail proof emotionally.

So when the middle school open house presentation said bus service would be available for summer school, I thought we had nothing to lose. The grandmothers might have panicked a little (although they are good at playing it cool), but I thought we had to try something different from what we had done so far, especially since middle school parent pick-up is a much more congested and chaotic process than elementary school pick-up. This year Jesse weaved his own way through bus lines, rowdy students, and a busy parking lot to get to wherever I had found an open parking space. I couldn’t see that same scenario working for Claire.

I also thought Claire might see the bus as a fixture of transportation reliability. What is always there when you walk out of school? The school bus line. What isn’t always there when you walk out of school? Your parent (NOTE: We were late or not within sight a total of three times the entire year, but it left a mark).

On her first morning, she trooped up those tall bus steps and never looked back. Even when her driver needed a sub this week and the bus was late at school, Claire was fine. I asked her what they did while they waited. “We just sat together on the grass. Mr. Cody has our names on his clip board, so he called the bus.”

(It’s not hard to make people feel safe. I was surprised by how much it meant to Claire that her bus driver and the school security officer knew her by name and kept track of whether or not she was on the bus. That’s all she needed to feel covered.)

This week I watched her bus driver move a kid to a different seat so that Claire could have the one in the very front. I didn’t ask her to do that, but I was very pleased to see it happen. Can being a public school bus driver be a gift to the world? I think, yes! The bus stop is just a block from our home; from it she can see our van in its parking space. She’s currently working up the bravery to walk home on her own. She’s just waiting for me to get her a key to the front door. (WHAT?!)  And I’m so proud of her. Since she’s started summer school, it’s been like watching her grow-up through that iPhone super speed filter.

What I’m doing, in some ways, is setting her up to not need me. It would have been easier in a lot of ways to drive her to and from summer school. But learning to ride a bus is making her braver. I’ve read stories about New York kids who take the subways to and from dentist appointments in the middle of the school days.The SUBWAY!

What if learning to ride the bus gives Claire a freedom she might not otherwise have? Can I overcome my own fears so that she can enjoy that? I’m not sure either of us has the nerve for her to get her driver’s license. A school bus today could be the city bus tomorrow. She could learn to ride to high school, work maybe. I don’t know what her future looks like. I just don’t want to get in the way. If I truly want her to be brave when facing the world, I probably need to start by being brave myself, which sometimes means doing less so that she can do more.



“…I’m a Lily.”

My husband hosts the 5-in5 Songwriting Challenge every year. It’s for anyone – from artists who have already recorded their own albums to kids still learning their instruments. It’s for any kind of song – from love songs to Jesus songs to very silly songs to instrumentals. You can sing, play, or both. You can record audio through Garage Band or simply hit record on your video device of choice and start singing. It’s an awesome, awesome thing to see people do the work in the first place (because writing is HARD) and then be brave enough to share it with the world.

Every year – especially this year when our own kids are participating like it’s their job (you know, the kind of volunteer job that sucks all your time and energy and offers no monetary reward) – the 5-in-5 Challenge reminds me of this clip from the classic Capra film You Can’t Take it With You. Here you’ll meet Grandpa, the patriarch, who lives life without worrying about traditional societal conventions. This is one of the first scenes; later scenes in their home highlight a delightful chaos of novelists, inventors, and dancers. The plot centers around visitors from the IRS and from the rich family one of the granddaughters is hoping to marry into. (Please watch the whole movie sometime. We quote from it constantly.)



Sometimes I like to pretend I’m more practical than the eccentric family portrayed in this movie. But then I remember that our family of six lives in a two-bedroom town home so we can be within walking distance of an ice cream shop (among other reasons, I’m pretty sure). I just finished a terminal degree in creative writing, a field that I love but one that will quite possibly never provide me anything like a lot of money. Dan hosts and participates in 5-in-5 because he believes in its merits, despite the fact that he loses hours of sleep designing the blog posts and interacting with the participants while also making sure he’s doing the creative work for his own music (for his own soul).

We might not have a lot of things … but we have our art and we have each other and we have all the little joys that come with living life surrounded by these gifts. “The die is cast …”