When you want to teach them all the lessons

my girl #2 via kimberlyanncoyle.com

They started rolling in half-way through my morning run. I saw them light up my phone screen as I clipped along on the treadmill. The texts came from my daughter who left for school fifteen minutes prior. I glanced over without stopping, and when I read “MOM I FORGOT…SECRET SANTA…GIFT…HELP” I stopped reading and kept running. Despite the ALL CAPS, an emergency on her part did not constitute an emergency on mine. Then she began calling. My cell phone, the house phone, then my cell again. I finally stopped running when she texted MOM PLEASE PICK UP!!! While I admired her persistence, I stopped because I reached the point where my desire to yell at her exceeded my desire to finish my run.

I called her back, all breathy and annoyed, and when she picked up the phone, her voice sounded so small. It reminded me that even though I have to crane my neck and look up when I speak to her, she’s still my little girl. Her “Mom, please, I’m so sorry but…” sank like a pin into the balloon of my irritation. One swift jab of her sweetness and I deflated. Don’t get me wrong, I felt totally and utterly frustrated with her, but what little is left of my tenderness from the kids’ early years, took over for the hardened mother I’ve become, the one that wants to teach them all the lessons.

My husband, a marshmallow on most days, suggested I let her feel the pain of her irresponsibility. I usually jump all over these opportunities–never let it be said my kids don’t learn from their mistakes. But something about her plaintive voice, and the thought of some poor child at her lunch table not receiving a gift, and the fact that I need bailing out repeatedly, stopped me. I realized, my kid has a lifetime to learn from her mistakes. Seriously, an entire lifetime of adulthood where she will screw up, and will find herself on her hands and knees wiping up her own mess. God knows, I’ve found myself with hands and knees raw and chapped from the constant bending, cleaning, humbling from cleaning up after my own mistakes.

I brought her the secret santa gift, which she’d wrapped all wonky and crooked, scrawling the name Brie across the top in her childish hand. I even stopped and picked up a warm bagel for her lunch. I thought of how little time and opportunity I have left to make things right for her, how few things I can truly fix. She’s at an age when the cracks begin to show in the lives of her friends, when relationships fall apart and heartbreak becomes a reality. When eating disorders and drugs and depression and drinking present a very real threat. I can’t mother away the pain of her friend’s illness or the friend whose dad left and whose life is falling apart. I can’t mother her into good grades and a stellar college. I can’t mother her into a relationship with Jesus. All I can do is show up when she needs me, and mother her in the small places.

When I arrived at the high school, I walked in with two other parents carrying what appeared to be forgotten lunches. We lined up at the welcome table manned by two volunteer mothers. Papers, bagged lunches, and crumpled athletic uniforms piled up on the table, and in the middle sat the sign-in form for the forgotten items. One mom handed me a pen and a sticky note with a wry smile. She sees this all day long–mamas doing the best they can to parent in the small places left to us, before we’re crowded out altogether.


Do you wish you had someone to clean up behind your messes sometimes? I know I do!


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  • Barb

    Hi Kimberly,
    This afternoon, in between packing boxes for mailing, making spiced nuts and cutting out cookies I stopped for a cup of coffee and caught up with your last two blog entries. I’ve read every one, you know. Sometimes you bring me to tears and sometimes you provide me with a smile I carry around all day. I remember that time raising children. You so want to do it right but all you can do is what you can. I remember that sweet young girl (too young to babysit, her mother thought) who came for an hour every afternoon so I could take a shower and start dinner. It was the only break I had and you were too young to know what a wonderful gift you were giving me for the princely price of fifty cents. You’re still giving me a break when I need it and for that I thank you. Have a merry and blessed Christmas. Hugs, Mrs. C (aka Barb)

    • Barb, this is truly the best comment I’ve ever received here on the blog:) Thank you for being so generous with your words and your memories. I loved being a part of your lives, and I’m so grateful you gave me a chance to grow up a little outside the walls of my own house. Thanks so much for reading, it’s so special to me that you continue to come back:) Have a wonderful Christmas!

    • Mark Allman

      What a wonderful tribute.

  • Mark Allman


    This is one I struggle with and that is letting my kids learn lessons from their mistakes when I have the power in me to make it right. I always have felt it an honor to be called upon to step in the gap when something falls apart. I know at some point and they leave home those chances will evaporate. So I always step up and do what I can to help out. I don’t choose to do for them that which they should do for themselves but if I can help them out of a bind I feel honored to do so. I don’t want them to ever feel they are alone and no one will have their back. I believe they will have enough battles to fight without me that the least I can do is help when I can. My wife does not agree with me all of the time on this.

    My father was never around to step into any gap for me. My mother did the best she could but with 5 of us it was tough on her. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt anyone had my back.

    My daughter did something nice the other day for someone and she said “I learned this generosity from you dad”.

    So I struggle… do I do too much? I hope not; my hope is that my choices are filled with love and desire to walk with them through the hardships of this life and hopefully teach them how to relish the journey and make their journey good but also reach out and help others too.

    So maybe I fail at making them learn hard lessons but they do know I would do the same for anyone else and I already see them stepping up helping others they come in contact with even strangers.

    So I hope I have not failed them.

  • Sheila Dailie

    “God knows, I’ve found myself with hands and knees raw and chapped from the constant bending, cleaning, humbling from cleaning up after my own mistakes.”

    Growing up in a strong German community, where everyone knew everyone else’s business–or at least they thought they did!–judging others is part of the woof and warp of my being. I’m learning that when I remember the “hands and knees raw and chapped….after my own mistakes,” it is easier to be a channel of Christ’s love.

    Kimberly, you let Christ love through your hands and feet! Way to go, Mamma!