From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

A Lesson Learned When Tying Shoelaces

For working mothers, getting children ready for school in the morning and doing so in a timely and reasonably calm manner is a daily “opportunity for growth.” How many moms have arrived at the office with a jelly stain on their “dry clean only” dress from the peanut butter and jelly sandwich made for school lunch? In addition to making school lunches, they also pour juice, make coffee, take a quick look at the newspaper headlines, look for a missing sneaker, and supervise the packing of school bags. It is no wonder that working moms often feel like it’s nearly lunchtime when they first walk into their workplace, having accomplished more in the first two hours of their day than their coworkers can ever imagine!

The beginning of some days are less than ideal. I shudder at the times I’ve dropped our oldest son off at elementary school wearing his favorite T-shirt for the third time that week, his hair sticking up and toothpaste on the corner of his mouth. As I lean out the car window, rubbing the toothpaste away (and comforting myself by noticing that at least he brushed his teeth), I realize that I’ve blown it again. We’ve had a minor disagreement in the car ride to school, no doubt fueled by the quick-paced schedule both my son and I have kept since we awoke that morning. I drive away from the school feeling guilty that our morning routine and conversation have not prepared him for the best start to the school day. My mother’s intuition told me that the negative interaction with my son that morning impacted how his school day went. My instinct was verified in a workshop I recently attended. It’s humbling for working moms to have their guilt confirmed by “scientific” research!

While I incur stresses such as these as a result of being a working mom, over the years I realize I’ve learned some lessons about myself, my children have learned lessons about themselves, and we’ve learned lessons about and from one another that we wouldn’t have learned if I was a stay-at-home mom. Because starting the day with personal reflection and prayer as well as getting work-related paperwork completed and e-mails answered makes me a more effective college professor, I’ve learned I need to get up earlier to have enough time for these tasks. Because I need to be getting dressed and making lunches at the same time our oldest son needs to eat breakfast and get dressed, he has learned how to be more independent by pouring his cereal and choosing what clothes to wear (which explains why he sometimes wears the same T-shirt more than once a week!). Because our oldest son likes to ease into the day by reading a book or leaning out the car window, while I like to talk when driving to school, we’ve learned to compromise during the twenty-five minute drive by having him spend half of our travel time reading and the other half talking about upcoming events of the day.

While these lessons have had a positive impact on me and my children, the most significant lesson I’ve learned while getting ready for work and school happened years ago when I was tying our oldest son’s shoelaces for him before leaving for kindergarten.

I remember feeling pleased that we were running a few minutes ahead of schedule! Hurriedly tying his shoes, more out of habit than necessity, Colin put his hands on my shoulders and looked directly into my eyes. “Mom, why do you always have to tie my shoes so fast?”

I paused, and then responded, “I don’t know, honey. That’s a good question!”

In that brief exchange I learned more from my son about how to be a good parent than I could from reading countless books or attending workshops on effective parenting. My son taught me a lesson that has guided me through the years as he’s grown from being a preschooler to a budding adolescent. People—not completing tasks— should be my focus as a parent. Live in the moment, appreciate each blessing, whether it be the fact that the start of our day has been relatively smooth or he has found a T-shirt or two that he likes to wear a lot!

Colin no longer needs me to tie his shoelaces; however, as I watch him put on his shoes each morning before we leave the house for school and work, I am reminded of this lesson he taught me years ago.

Margaret Haefner Berg

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