I’ve always been an extremely affectionate person.
I shower the people I love with hugs, kisses and attention. I do things for them and help them when they’re in need. I usually don’t have extra money, but when I do I spend it on the people I care about before I spend it on myself.
I’m a giver. Sometimes to a fault.
When Aidan was born I instantly fell in love with him. I’ve shown him that love in many different ways.
When he was an infant it was by stroking his face while I breastfed him to keep him alive and changing his god-awful diapers.
When he was a toddler it was by snuggling with him, making him laugh and being patient with him through his terrible-twos (and threes!).
When his father and I split and I became a single mom I found myself coddling him. I became softer on discipline and starting spoiling him, whether it be with gifts, attention or affection.
Maybe all single moms go through that phase. For me I went through it because of guilt. I thought my inability to make my relationship with his father work meant I’d somehow failed him as a parent – and that spoiling him would make up for everything I thought he’d be missing.
I can look back now and see my coddling was also a bit selfish. Doing everything for my son and smothering him with affection made me feel good at a time in my life when I didn’t think I had much to feel good about. “Taking care of him” on the days he was with me gave my life purpose.
It made me feel wanted and needed again – a temporary fix for the bruised ego my ex had left me with.
Eventually I got over my guilt and found more productive ways to feel good about myself. I became less wishy-washy and more stern in my discipline and my expectations of him. I stopped buying him gifts all the time and instead made him earn them by doing chores. I thought I’d gotten a grip on my coddling ways, until something happened last weekend that showed me I hadn’t fully recovered.
My son turned seven this month.
I don’t know why in my mind I thought a seven-year-old was incapable of picking up a jug of apple juice and pouring a drink for himself, but I did. I somehow thought if he ever tried to do it alone the jug of juice would end up all over the floor.
And he let me believe that too.
Normally when he asked me for a drink I would stop whatever I was doing and get it for him, but last weekend I was in the middle of something and couldn’t stop right away.
“I’ll get it when I’m done buddy. Just give me five minutes.”
A few seconds later I heard the refrigerator door open and close, and the pitter patter of little feet across my kitchen floor.
When I peeked around the corner to see what he was doing I saw him pouring a glass of juice for himself. Every single bit of apple juice made it into the glass. And when he was done he screwed the cap back on the jug and put it right back in the refrigerator.
“You know how to get your own juice?!” I asked, in awe.
He didn’t say a word, but he grinned back at me.
“Do you get your own juice at Daddy’s?” I asked, bewildered.
“Yes,” he said, grinning.
“And all this time you’ve been making me stop whatever I’m doing and get juice for you when you can do it yourself?!” I asked.
His smiled faded as he looked down at the floor.
“I’m not mad buddy, I’m just asking,” I said.
“I just like when you get the juice for me because then I don’t have to get it.”
I’d never really thought about how my coddling him could make him lazy.
I’d thought I was being a good mother by always doing things for him I thought he couldn’t do. Somewhere over the last three years my maternal instincts had blurred my common sense that a seven-year-old had probably developed enough fine motor skills to pour his own juice, amongst other things.
Later that day when I got him in the car I caught him starting to put his own seat belt on, another thing I’d been doing for him all this time because I thought he wasn’t strong enough to do.
“You know how to put your own seat belt on too?!” I said with a grin as I rolled my eyes.
“N-…Oh darn!” he exclaimed.
I couldn’t be mad at him for tricking me all this time. It was my own fault.
I hadn’t encouraged him to try because of my own laziness. The truth was the minute I’d thought about the time it would take me to clean up the mess he might make pouring juice or how excruciating it might be for me to sit and watch him fumble with a seat belt for a few minutes if we were in a rush, I’d already decided I didn’t want him to try for my own reasons.
But not anymore. I need to change.
I don’t want to raise a child who feels entitled to things or who is clueless as to how to survive in the real world without me.
And that’s why I stopped coddling my kid.
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