I am fortunate to be raising a good kid. She’s yet 13, and has her “moments,” but for the most part she is honest with me, does not talk back, and is generally a person I can count on. It has to be this way, because I am a single, working mom and there are times when she has to be home by herself. This weekend she is going through one of those “moments.” It smacks of hormone surge because of the sudden shift in personality.
All week long Miss T has come straight home from school, made herself a healthy snack, and then finished her homework before I got home from work. Tues and Thurs she has ballet, so she collected change for the bus, got herself off to class, and got herself home with no fuss at all and not even a call begging for a ride home as she sometimes does. I received one of those automated phone calls one night, saying that my student was marked absent in the afternoon, and that I needed to call the office and explain why. Miss T said she was not absent. I called the school the next day and was reassured that it was a mistake. They know her by name at the office and assured me that she was at school and they would correct the records right away. See? Good kid.
Friday she had been granted a gift in return for her conformity to the well-behaved child I expect her to be. I gave her permission to go to the movies with her girlfriends. It was to start at 5:00pm, so I gave the movie two hours, then started carrying the phone on my person to make sure I didn’t miss the text or phone call. No text or phone call came. At 10 minutes to 8:00, I texted her: “Where are you? I’m worried.” I didn’t hear a thing till 8:20 when she called me. No, it was not even a check in. She had run around with her friends for the past hour, then checked her phone right before she got to the house. As we were speaking, I heard her walk in the door. Needless to say, my anger outweighed the relief of having her home safe. But I didn’t flip out. I calmly told her that the way things had panned out that evening were not acceptable, and I repeated what she already knows about what I expect from her in the future.
Talking is not enough.
Saturday she was a bratty teen from the moment she opened her eyes. She committed small failures mostly: taking liberties without asking, lying about getting her chores done, deciding it was ok to leave the house while I was gone and could not be asked. I called her, told her to get her butt home, and set her to work on more chores and then supervised to make sure they got done right. She had permission to go back to the park if she could get everything done before it was time for ballet practice for the June performance. She got everything done and had about 45 minutes to spare. She was hopping-eager to get out of the house and away from me, but I made her talk about getting home in time for ballet practice. I told her to think about how much time she had to play, when she wanted to get home so we could get to practice on time. “Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ll be here,” was her snooty answer. I let her go.
She missed ballet entirely. I had wavered in my head for awhile about whether to call her and remind her, and then drive over and get her because I knew it was a long walk… and I realized that the whole problem is that she’s expecting me to cover for her. Ballet is a privilege (and an expensive one). She loves participating and is proud to tell others about it. Missing practice is a blow to her, not to me. So… I watched the minutes tick by and waited while she missed practice. Her frantic phone call came too late.
When she got home, she didn’t have a word to say for herself. I made her call the instructor and apologize for missing her class. As soon as she hung up, she announced that she was hungry and wanted a snack even though it was obvious I was in the middle of preparing dinner. “No, you can wait. And while you’re waiting, you can put your clean clothes away,” I said, handing her a stack of laundry. Miss T turned on her laptop as she passed it, hoping to return when the clothes were put away. I turned off the computer and when she came back I explained something to her.
“Some of what I do for you is my job, and some of what I do is favors. I do a lot of favors for you. It’s common human decency that when someone does something nice for you, you pay them back. For example, I do favors like let you bend the rules sometimes and give you treats. I don’t have to do that.”
“I know!” she says, humbly. “I know you do a lot for me.”
“My job is to keep you safe, and to keep you healthy. You never, ever, ever owe me for that. But when I do something special for you, you need to pay me back. You must do more than your regular job as a kid. You need to show me respect for what I have done, by being extra polite, checking in with more texts, asking permission at all times, look for ways to help around the house, clean your room without being asked, that kind of thing. Because you didn’t respect me, you can’t touch your computer for the rest of the weekend.”
That’s worse than any other kind of punishment. She would rather starve than be deprived of the Internet. It’s what I should have done in the beginning, on Friday. Then I would have had my good girl back already.