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“I Forgot My Homework!” Stopping the Mom Butler Service

“Can you please bring me my Chromebook?”

That text message was sent by my eighth-grade son. Out of my three kids, he wasn’t even the worst offender for forgetting things. His twin sister easily won that prize by texting me to bring homework, lunch, or gym clothes twice as often as he did.

Does your teen keep forgetting things?

“I’m on my way,” I responded.

My twins will be 14 years old soon, and as much as I hated to admit it, this had to end. I knew I needed to devise a plan to wean them (and me) off the “mom butler service.”

A Lifetime of Being Mama Bear

When my twins were in first grade, the school phone number popped up on caller ID. And I did what any parent does when they see that number—I panicked. Are they hurt? Are they sick? Are they in trouble? I expected to hear the voice of the principal or a teacher or any type of authority figure, but instead, I heard a six-year-old girl’s voice.

“Mom, can you please bring me my homework?”

“Of course, sweetie, I’ll be right over.”

And so it began.

Before I drove to the school that first time, my husband said, “Don’t bring it to her.”

Really? He is the yes-man. The one who allowed our kids to climb up that steep, wobbling ladder attached to an equally steep slide. He’s the guy that buys them over $50 worth of movie theater candy because he doesn’t want to say, “No, you can’t have all that.”

Did he really want me to say “no” to something that seemed pretty benign?

“She needs to learn to remember to bring it, and you bringing her homework doesn’t help her to do that,” he said. “If you bring it to her she learns that her mom will always bail her out.”

My first reaction to this was, “What is wrong with her thinking her mom will always bail her out?” But then after giving it some more thought, I knew he was right.

Yet, my mama-bear instinct kicked in and I had to protect her from getting in trouble, so I brought her homework to school. And I continued to do so when any of my three children called because they forgot their jacket, lunch, or gym clothes. I couldn’t let them freeze, starve, or not participate.

Being the Change I Needed to See

Two years ago, I read an article about a Catholic boys’ school posting a sign on the door that said:

“If you are dropping off your son’s forgotten lunch, books, homework, equipment, etc., please TURN AROUND and exit the building. Your son will learn to problem-solve in your absence.”

My initial thought was that I wished our school posted that sign because then it would absolve me of my guilt if I didn’t bring the forgotten item. But my kids’ school supported their pleas, allowing them to call me from the office phone before they had their own phones. And, I admit, I still wanted to be able to help my kids when they asked.

Now that my twins are in eighth grade, my husband’s sentiments are starting to resonate with me more strongly, and my protective mama-bear instinct has slowly dissipated. I’m feeling more like a mama bird who needs to nudge them out of that comfy, well-insulated nest. In five years, they may be going to college. Unless they live at home, I won’t be able to bring their forgotten items to class for them. So, I created my own sign and taped it to the front door. It read:

School Responsibility Plan

Weaning You Off the Mom Butler Service – You are entitled to three passes for the rest of the school year, so choose wisely.

If you choose to use your pass, I will bring your forgotten item to school for you.

Before you walk out the door, did you remember to bring:

Your Homework

Your Books

Your Chromebook

Your Lunch

Your Gym Clothes

Have a wonderful day!

Love, Mom

I’m cautiously optimistic that this new plan will enable my kids to be more responsible and facilitate an early retirement for “Butler Mom.” I realize it is a growing process for all of us, and that I need to do this at my own moderate pace. There will likely be setbacks when they ask for a forgotten lunch (a mom’s worst fear is to have a starving child), but hopefully, we will be able to stay the course.

With any luck, by the time they are in college, I will only have to drive there to see their smiling faces. Unless of course, they text me from an unknown number saying, “Mom, can you please bring me my phone?”

I would respond immediately, “I’m on my way.”

After all, I need to be able to call them.

Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree. She is married and is the mother of twins and a daughter. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, Parents Magazine, AARP, Healthline, Your Teen Magazine and many other publications. She is a professional member of ASJA. You can find her at Twitter @CherylMaguire05

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