While making dinner one night, my then-12-year-old daughter came into the kitchen and informed me she had the sniffles and was sneezing. I did a quick inventory to make sure it was nothing serious. Cheeks a nice shade of rosy red, not flushed or pale; hand to forehead – no fever. “Say Ahh” – tonsils looked normal. By my unscientific mom standards, she seemed fine, so I told her to take some over-the-counter medicine from the cabinet. She looked at me confused and said, “I don’t know what to take.”
Now at this point, I knew I had two choices: I could hand her the spoon and tell her to stir my stir-fry while I got her the medicine, or I could step back, allow her to be more independent and learn a very important life skill by getting the medicine herself. I chose option two.
Yes, I told my very surprised tween daughter to think about her symptoms, read the boxes and figure out which of the shelves full of cough syrups, antacids and cold medicine was right for her…and to consult with me before taking anything, of course. With an eye roll and a foot stomp, she made her way reluctantly to the medicine cabinet.
As I sautéed the onions, I periodically glanced over my shoulder to see how she was doing. I could see her struggling as she tried to decipher if a decongestant was the right choice. “Relieves sinus pressure, fever and nasal congestion,” she read out loud. “But I don’t have a fever, I’m just sneezing,” she said to herself while making sure I could hear. “When I’m like that, it’s usually allergies and not a cold,” I threw out there, hoping she would consider my unsolicited offering of information.
She rolled her eyes at me and then put the box of wrong medicine down. I secretly let out a sigh of relief and continued to fight every urge in my body to go over there and help my poor little runny-nosed, sneezing baby girl. “Step back, Sharon!” I told myself. “She can do this.”
AND SHE DID DO IT, TOO! After much inner debate, my girl held up a box with the non-drowsy antihistamine in it and said with a huge smile on her face, “This one, right?” “That is it!” I said with an even bigger smile. She took her medicine and was about to leave when she skipped back over to me and kissed my cheek. “Thanks, mom for, well, not helping me!”
I was so proud of us both that night. I had successfully helped my girl by…not helping! I took a step back, let my child struggle a little and did not bail her out. I’ll admit it was hard, but that smile on her face when she figured it out on her own, the confidence in her step when she walked away…that is what it is all about.
Learning to step back is not just about giving your child more freedom and space…it’s about allowing yourself a chance to pause and reflect. It’s about watching your child dig through the medicine cabinet knowing it is going to be okay because she knows, without you ever saying a word, that you are right there stirring the stir-fry, ready to help, without really helping!
Sharon Fuentes is an award-winning freelance writer, special-needs parenting advisor and the author of the book, The Don’t Freak Out Guide to Parenting Kids with Asperger’s. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.