On Carrying Their Backpacks {Lessons in Motherhood}

I suppose I’d like to think that I was a mom who stepped away from helicoptering.  A mom who calmly asked her son, “where do you think your foot should go?” upon noticing his trepidation at the top of the jungle gym.  Hoping to never rob my kids of the opportunity to learn from risk-taking.  Aiming never to meddle with those budding inner compasses – leading to the profound sense of earned accomplishment in mastering something alone.

I’d like to think that I was a mom who was working on raising up motivated, resilient, self-reliant little people.

teaching kids to be resilient

In motherhood, it is incredibly difficult to see our children struggle without wanting in some way, to make things right. The challenge continues when deciphering when to intervene – and then decided what form of life-raft to send along the way.  But this precious life can not be presented as a false reality – and I can not run to mend or cushion all of my children’s struggles. As it is often in the mending that we create more problems for our children.

Last year, when playing after school, my little guy was met with a big branch in his eye. I knew immediately – in the way that only a mother can – that he sustained a true injury.  His trembles and cries lasted the entire walk home, and he was carried in my arms the ten blocks or so, while my husband rushed home to drive him to urgent care.  I was incredibly frustrated that day with my first-grader who repeatedly asked me to carry her backpack.  I was already carrying my 34 pound son, his backpack and my bag.  Didn’t she hear his sobs?  Couldn’t she muster the strength to stop complaining?

As I thought about the situation later that evening, I realized that I never even gave my daughter the chance to wear her backpack.  Instead, I instinctually slid the straps off of both of my children’s backs as soon as they came out of school. Carrying the weight of books and lunch boxes for them – I didn’t even give my actions a second thought.

A lot has changed since that day at the playground.  My son’s corneal abrasion healed up nicely, and the kiddos regularly carry their backpacks. Sometimes they’re too heavy and sometimes I assist – but only when asked.  For the most part, the children don’t even notice the monstrosities strapped to their backs on our daily walks home from school.  And as for me?  I’m actively trying to be cognizant of and change the things that I do for my children that they can, and should be, doing for themselves.



  1. I can relate to this post in so many ways with my oldest. First I’m so sorry about your son’s injury. It sounds horrible. Second I’m very familiar with my kids needing me just because the other one needs me at that moment and to note on whether to step in and intervene or not, I struggle with that all the time especially with things I find out after the fact that happened at school with JJ. I just try to council on the side and my son also started playing football and my husband is trying to show him a drive to succeed and be competitive, while I’m trying to keep his sensitive side going. I think he’s got so many people telling him how to be that I’m now worried about him feeling overwhelmed. This parenting thing is so hard sometimes right Monica?

  2. It’s funny you mention this because I see this EVERY day with my students! As a teacher, I do believe in assigning a moderate amount amount of homework to students to keep them busy in the evening (rather than only play video games, lol!) but it kills me to see them lugging those backpacks around!!! I remember when I was younger, the cool thing to do was carry yours with one strap hanging…and how many times did we hear that we were going to end up walking lopsided?! lol! I’ve been seeing students lately with those little rolling sort of suitcases, which I think are brilliant! At the same time, you are SO right…the ones who do carry those super heavy backpacks never complain…they just DO IT! Makes us adults think about how often we complain and how unnecessary it is sometimes, doesn’t it??

  3. Oh Monica. what a fantastic, thoughtful, and wise post. First of all, thank goodness your precious little guy is fine!!!
    I have to tell you, when I was reading about his injury and visualizing you carrying him, knowing he had really hurt himself and not knowing the specifics, and trying to stay calm for both kids…my heart went out to you. I hate–absolutely hate, any injury that has to do with the eyes! I swear that’s my fear when they’re little. And I applaud you for taking time to reflect on the larger issue that came up after the dust settled and he was on the road to recovery.
    Sigh. Helicopter parenting is such a meaty topic and even though I’ve observed some pretty crazy and invasive parenting by other Moms, I have to admit I’m not exempt. In fact, the other day my nineteen year old gave me his opinion that I ‘did too much’ for him growing up and gave me an example. He told me I should have let him be late all those mornings during Senior year instead of waking-calling-yelling-for him to get up on time. “After I got detention a few times I would’ve gotten myself up Mom” he admits now. And he’s right, today he gets up every morning at 5 am for his Crew practice. So yes, I have a lot of regrets about ‘doing too much’ in the little ways, especially the chores!!! Why oh why didn’t I have them more involved around the house? I know. I was too impatient and picky, choosing instead to hurry through their rooms, cleaning them quickly and thoroughly instead of letting them endure the tedious (habit building) acts of housework. Now, at 19 and 22, I fully see the results of my own butting in, when I see the messes.
    But clearly, housework is only one small piece of helicopter behavior…As mothers, I think we’re confronted with daily opportunities to give our kids choices and freedom to make those glorious mistakes in their school and social world. But it sounds like you know this. And you seem to have such an intuitive understanding of what you need to do, even when it’s difficult. It’s been my humble experience that the true challenge of mothering has been stepping back from my own needs—to feel reassured, etc…–in order to let my boys stumble, hurt, fail, make dumb mistakes etc…knowing that it’s these experiences that teach them who they are, and what they’re capable of. Forgive my blathering, this is such a juicy topic. Wish we could go out for coffee and chat instead. You’re still one of my favorite shining stars in the blog world. Your writing makes me weak-kneed, it’s so beautiful.
    ps can’t wait to hear about the Halloween costumes!

    • Leslie – thanks you so much for stopping by and for this heartfelt message. I’m always on a pretty steep learning curve – trying to navigate something new every single day. And although I’m inclined to help, sometime from my motherly instinct and sometimes to simplify a situation – I always see the benefit of having the kids do on their own. What I would do for a coffee date with you! Than you again for your kindness. xxxx


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