Depth and Parenting – Guiding Children through Childish Mistakes

This morning as I was herding kids out the door to catch the bus, the eight year old burst into tears.


I turned my head to look, and she held out toward me her homework folder. The one that comes home Monday, and is turned in FIRST THING Tuesday morning. The one that was full of not-even-started, not-finished homework. The one I asked about last night, “did you get your homework done,” and was told “yes, I read my book on the bus.”

Her BOOK was done, her worksheets were not. She just plain forgot.


Every single Grower of People has been there.  Your kid does something, comes to you with something, or says something that makes you go “…..?!?”  You stand slack-jawed, mid-motion, dumbstruck and completely befuddled as to what to do or say.   Your mind spins and tries to sort through all of your ideals, the baggage put on you by your parents, societal expectations, “should dos,” “supposed tos,” and religious teachings.  If you’re like me, you also think about “what kind of precedent am I setting if I choose ___,” and “is it going to be a hard rule, or an exception?”

Add a shot of inner yelling, “WHAT THE HELL, YOU HAVE TO CATCH THE BUS IN FOUR MINUTES,” plus a bucket full of frustration.  In hindsight I am surprised I didn’t yell.  It had been a chaotic morning.

No yelling.  Just a big sigh.

As I stood there with one hand in the dish water cleaning up breakfast and the other hand yanking shut the zipper on her brother’s backpack, I looked in her anguished face.  I had a choice to make.  “NOW WHAT?  How do I deal with this?”

The answer, I think, depends greatly on the lesson I wanted her to learn.

1.  Tell her “Sorry Charlie, you should have gotten that done before.  I even asked you if you did it.”  Send her to school with her homework not done, make sure she learns that there are consequences to not staying aware and mindful of her responsibilities.  She would have NOT gotten a sticker on her homework tracking sheet, the first missing sticker of the whole school year, and her perfect record of turning in her assignments ON TIME and COMPLETE would have been broken.

Lesson learned:  Mistakes have consequences.   Remember your responsibilities.  Time is finite, when you run out or plan poorly you miss out on things.

2.  Tell her “WHAT THE HELL, why didn’t you do it?  I ASKED YOU IF YOU DID IT, WHY DID YOU SAY YES WHEN THE ANSWER WAS NO.”  Send her to school feeling bad for forgetting, feeling bad for lying (unintentionally or otherwise), no sticker on homework sheet, broken record for completed assignments.

Lesson learned:  Mistakes have consequences.  Remember your responsibilities, even the ones you don’t remember.  “I told you so,” and also Mommy is kind of an asshole.  Don’t go to her when you make a mistake, she’ll make it worse.

3.  Tell her “HURRY FAST DO IT NOW,” stress her out, encourage her to do it on the bus.  Tell her that she needs to get it done, that “homework is so important, don’t break your homework-completed-on-time streak, get the sticker, PERFECT IS PERFECT.”  Rush her, and then when the bus comes push her out the door frantic and panicked.  Hope she gets it done on the bus or before class starts.  Expect her to do her best effort and work under pressure.

Lesson learned:  GET ‘ER DONE, no matter what.  When you don’t plan well, just force it.  Getting homework done is more important than doing it right.  If you don’t plan well it’s fine, you’ve always got the last minute.

I’ve been told “you can’t raise a kid by reading a book.”  I agree with that, one hundred percent.

The reason a checklist won’t work for all parents and all kids, is that no two people are ever alike.  And no two RELATIONSHIPS are ever alike.  The checklist that might work perfectly for me and my daughter cannot be used even by her and The Mister, because even though SHE is the same, HE is not ME.  The dynamic is changed.  No matter what the relationship (sister-brother, mother-daughter, husband-wife, employee-boss), lists won’t work

But Depth DOES.

For every perfectly timed comment and dealt-with-exactly-right situation, for every “this method works perfect between these two people,” for every single conversation that leaves two people feeling better, even if the outcome is less than desirable, there is DEPTH.

Depth is what is UNDER the checklists.  It is what runs UNDER the words.

And DEPTH, in this case with my daughter and her unfinished homework, is what I used to help me decide how to proceed.

Depth helped me to pause and look at her face.  She felt BAD.  She knew in that moment that she had made a horrible mistake.

Depth and the relationship I have with her assured me that she did NOT do it on purpose, and that it was an accident.  Perhaps one caused from negligence, but an accident nonetheless.  I know how important her homework is to her (I’ve taught her well in that regard).  I know how important pleasing her teachers is to her, and how proud she is of her perfect homework record.  I know that she did not intend to deceive me when she said “I read on the bus.”  In her mind she had done what she needed to do.

Depth is always about TWO people, not just one, and it reminds me to evaluate MY half of the responsibility.  I did not remember her worksheets, either.  I didn’t remind her “It’s Monday, that means there is more to do than just reading.”  Last night was a huge blur of activity (dinner, homework, cleaning, wrestling practice, brushing, bedtimes, phone calls, emails, deadlines) and “worksheets” were just one more thing.  They slipped through my cracks, too.

Depth loves.  It loves first, and loves hard.  With Depth comes grace, and forgiveness, and patience where otherwise there is none.

I looked in her anguished face, and I decided which lesson I wanted her to learn.

I took off Wulf’s backpack, told him to take off his jacket, and kneeled down in front of Norah.

“Honey, I’m sorry we didn’t remember.  Here’s what we’re going to do.”

I wiped away her tears and asked her, “What are you out of right now?”

She sniffed, and replied.  “I’m out of time.  I need more time.”

I smiled at her, and said “YES.  You need more time.  Because I love you, and because I forgot your homework last night too, I’m going to give you some of my time.  I will take time away from work and drive you to school.  That’ll give you about 20 minutes to finish your homework.  Does that sound okay?”

DEEP SIGH from her, and very relieved eyes.  “YES.  Thank you Mommy.”

“Here’s the thing, though.  I’m going to spend about 15 minutes in the car, taking you to school.  I’m giving you some of my time because of the forgetting, so to be fair you are going to have to give me some of yours.  When you get home tonight, I get 15 minutes of your time to help me with my stuff.  Okay?”

“Yes, that’s fair.”

Lesson Learned:  Time is finite.  When you run out, you need to give up something (free time after school) to get done what needs to be done.  Homework is important, important enough to reschedule other things.  There is no shame in making a mistake or forgetfulness, we all do it.

And most important, Norah learned that Mommy helps.  She knows that I won’t DO IT FOR HER, but that I will always do what I can to make things better.

If push came to shove and she absolutely had no extra time, if I could not have given the time to her, I’d have told her that.  I’d have said “I’m sorry, can you do it before recess, can you do it on the bus.”  I’d have allowed her to make the choice she felt was best, and I would have held her until the regret and sorrow stopped hurting.

As it was, we got it worked out.  Lesson learned for all, and at the end of it she and I were Deeper together than we were before.

Dig Deep, Friends.  Find your Depth.  Grow those People.

my beautiful norah d.

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