I broke a biggie as far as parenting commandments go: Thou shalt not sticketh thy noseth in-ith where it doesn’t belongth. You’d think after 5 kids I’d have learned something. Apparently, not enough.
I emailed my daughter’s teacher about her paper. She’d pilfered points off her essay citing a comma deficiency. Now, as far as my daughter’s papers go–eloquent? Maybe not. But grammatically correct? Absolutely. Even so, emailing her teacher was a mistake.
I’d stopped my daughter as she walked through the kitchen on her way to her room and asked what her teacher had given her on her paper.
“An 83?” A bit of a surprise. An 83% is good but, she usually scores higher on papers in that class.
“Well, what’d she mark off for?”
“Pfft! Commas?” I said incredulously. I’d checked her paper for grammatical errors before she’d turned it in. (Satisfies my inner grammarian.)
“Yeah, commas,” she said kind of nonchalantly.
“What’s the problem? Subordinating conjunctions? Compound sentences? Appositives?” I fired.
“Well, she said I left them out where I should’ve put them in.” De-comma-fied sentences?
“Give me that paper.”
I’m kind of a Comma Nazi. As an English major and former journalist, our house is a war zone when it comes to grammar. I’ll go to the mat over grammar errors. My kids might not get it right 100 percent of the time, but 17 points worth of commas? I don’t think so. I might not know a thing about Algebra or Chemistry, but don’t mess with a grammar momma and her commas.
I couldn’t find errors in her paper, but her teacher had inserted commas where they didn’t belong and took off points.
“Hon, I don’t see a problem here. Maybe I’m mistaken, but from what I understand about commas, there’s no issue.” The English Teacher’s Society of the Galaxy (or somebody like that) has been known to mess with grammar rules, switching rules around when people aren’t looking, but they couldn’t have changed that much.
Then I made my first mistake: I stuckth my noseth in-inth. I grabbed a grammar textbook to check comma rules. I didn’t stop there. Next, I cross-checked on the Internet to make sure somebody hadn’t sneaked in some new rules behind my back.
Second mistake: I butteth in-ith when I shouldn’t- ith. I emailed her teacher.
I didn’t want to foster a spirit of disrespect for authority in my daughter. “Look,” I explained as I pecked out the email, “I’m sure your teacher’s really smart, but I think she’s wrong here. Don’t just accept what someone gives you without question. Don’t you want the grade you deserve? You need to learn to advocate for yourself.”
Umm. . . then I advocated for her.
I explained to her teacher that we had a difference of opinion about commas, acknowledging that I could be wrong. I asked her to take another look at the paper. If she agreed with me, I asked her to give my daughter her points back.
About 15 minutes later, the teacher emailed back. She apologized. She’d made a mistake. She restored the points and raised my daughter’s grade to a 95. (Epic music!) The Comma Crusade was over. I’d emerged the victor.
But. . . not really.
Yeah, as Grammar Girl, I was victorious. As a mom trying to raise an independent kid, not so much. If I could rewind, I’d do it differently.
“Your Momma’s a Comma Queen” isn’t the point of this story; the point is I shouldn’t be doing stuff for my kid that she can do for herself.
My daughter’s 16. At her age, she’s capable of approaching her teacher to work out a problem. It was her 83, not mine. I should’ve let her cross-check the rules then coached her through working the problem out with her teacher. How else is she going to learn?
Too many times, I advocate for her when I ought to stay out of it. A “helicopter” mom. I’m not proud of it. In fact, it’s kind of embarrassing to admit.
We swoop in and fight teachers, coaches, and tutors. If only it stopped at teachers and coaches. We show up on college campuses trying to direct everything from our kids’ class schedules to the roommates they’re assigned. (Been there. Done some of that. I know; it’s embarrassing.)
I haven’t shown up in the workplace. But, some parents approach their adult kid’s employer to express grievances on behalf of their kids. They ask for raises or complain about the workload. That’s helicopter parenting on steroids. How are kids supposed to learn how deal with conflict if we constantly hover over them ready to dive in and fight their battles?
Thankfully, I had a chance to redeem myself just a few days later. My daughter’d been complaining TO ME that a mom she babysits for paid her with checks, but she wanted cash. Checks don’t translate to money in a teenager’s mind. This time I stayed out of it.
My lips said, “If you want to be paid in cash, ask her to pay you in cash.” My brain? She had a different plan. But, I shut her up and stayed out of it.
The next time she watched the kids, she came home with cash.
“Why’d she pay you in cash?” I asked.
“I asked her to,” she said smiling and flashed the bills in front of my face. Working out the problem gave her a shot at advocating for herself and a confidence boost.
Obviously, when my kids were younger, I needed to advocate on their behalf. It was my job. But it’s also my job to teach them how to advocate for themselves then butt out.
“Glad it worked out for you. It might not always turn out the way you’d like, but you’ll never know unless you ask,” I said.
“Yep,” she said with a grin and traipsed upstairs to chunk the cash into her bank while I landed my chopper and hung up my blades. The Black Hawk Down. For good.
This article is a re-write and first appeared on Suburban Misfit Mom.