As a single mom, I make the rules in our house — and they are rules I have created to encourage my kids to be thoughtful, considerate, responsible people. But even good rules have to be broken sometimes with good reason.
That’s what this essay was about. I wrote it hoping to see it published in a parenting publication. At the time, I was newish to essay writing and mining my life for ideas.
Here’s what happened.
I initially wrote this essay in 2017 during a blitz of essay writing. I wanted to break into the essay market with parenting essays, so I was pulling from my daily life to create essays that I hoped would sell.
How Becoming a Single Parent Improved My Finances sold to ParentMap around this time. But this essay just didn’t seem to hit the mark with editors.
After several rejections (or no responses), I revised the essay and pitched it a few more times. I also revised it again earlier this year when my daughter was in sixth grade since I could add more dimension with her experience.
Ultimately, this essay was rejected more than 12 times.
Reasonably certain that paying markets wouldn’t buy this, I decided to see if a blog would be interested in it as a guest post since the link-backs could be valuable to my blog. It was accepted as a guest post on a parenting blog but after a few months it still hadn’t been published there so I politely declined the acceptance so that I could either pitch it elsewhere or publish it myself.
I thought this would be a good one to start this series of rejected essays off with.
Why I sometimes break my own house rule with my kids
Good house rules teach kids important lessons about life and responsibility. But there needs to be room for mitigating factors in the implementation of house rules — like schoolwork. Having the tools for education matters more than the enforcement of good house rules.
“Mom? I forgot something,” my son said early one morning when he called me from his cell phone.
It was a rainy Wednesday morning in March. He’d just left for the bus stop moments earlier. Even before he responded, I knew what he’d forgotten. It was the one new thing he had to remember: his middle school-issued laptop computer.
I’d been hesitant to agree to let him bring it home, delaying signing the permission slip until the very last moment. As a sixth-grader, the privilege was more like a dress rehearsal for the responsibility he’d need to have in subsequent middle school grades and in high school when the laptop was more incorporated into his school work. So much responsibility shifts to the student in middle school. This was part of it.
My son’s middle school is among the nearly one-third of United States middle schools that issue devices to students to enhance their education. It’s a good concept — cutting across socio-economic barriers to ensure that kids have access to the computer programs, web applications and technical tools they need to learn to be good digital citizens. It’s not without its challenges though. WiFi can still be an issue for some, particularly since our district relies heavily on cloud-based tools and the responsibility of caring for a laptop is great — and the cost to parents of a replacement should something happen to a laptop is sizable.
I ultimately agreed to let him bring it home, but only after talking to his principal and tech team from the school. And, of course, on his first time doing so he forgot it.
“Where is it?” I asked. The small laptop in a slim black case wasn’t so easy to spot against my dark furniture, but then I did. “Never mind. Found it. I’ll be right there.”
Part of me wanted to adhere to our house rule: If you forget something, you’ve forgotten it for the day. As both a busy working single mother and someone who wants to instill responsibility in my kids, this is important to me. It’s crucial that they learn to be accountable to themselves and others. Moreover, I want them to understand that their actions have consequences. If they forget a book or an assignment, it’s their job to deal with it and any impact it has on their grade or free time.
But this time was a little different. In our conversation, my son’s principal emphasized how a missing laptop would disrupt his classwork. In the sixth grade, they used them for writing, project management and creation and tracking of their school work. When they get older, they’ll take quizzes and tests on the laptops too. By eighth grade, my son’s advanced math class would submit all their homework on a web application.
This was also the time of learning, the time of developing that responsibility and understanding that there are consequences. One exception to our otherwise good house rules certainly wouldn’t derail that forever, right?
So I went to the bus stop, and he headed off to school with his middle school-issued laptop in hand.
In the ensuing months, he didn’t forget the laptop again, despite a few close calls. He also learned to keep it charged so it would be ready for use in school and developed a routine around that. Meanwhile, the laptop came in handy for doing school work and school-related research at home.
That dress rehearsal was, it seems, a success — despite the initial bumps in the road. Now, as we look ahead to high school, I am more confident and relaxed about this privilege. He really did learn something.
That’s not to say he never forgot it again. He did. But he recognized the importance of responsibility and learned early that if he did forget, the sooner he told me the better — for both of us. And when my daughter, as a sixth-grader, forgot her laptop for the first time, Will took it to school with him to make sure she had it.
Good house rules provide structure in a home and teach important lessons. They stand for most things. But the best rules are the ones that have room for flexibility. Education matters more than the unilateral enforcement of any house rule.
There was a life lesson for me that first day too. The world isn’t black and white. To remain steadfast to the house rule about forgetting things would be a rigid failure on my part. It’s these gray parts — the ones where we relax rules, make exceptions and consider the context of things — that make us human, teach empathy and instill a sense that no problem is insurmountable.
Where would any of us be without a little help when we make a mistake? So, of course, I helped this time. Of course, I dropped the laptop off to him, with a reminder that he needs to remember it in the future. And so he has. Mostly.
And he hopefully learned something else too: Mom’s always there for him. No matter what.
This is a sampling of the responses I received from submissions of this essay. This includes both the paying outlets and some blogs to which I pitched this as a guest post.
- “I don’t think this is quite unique enough for us however, as I bet MOST moms break some of their house rules on occasion (I certainly do).”
- “This article is really great! We’ve currently decided to go in a different direction than using contributors, but if that changes, I will definitely let you know. I do highly encourage you to find an outlet to publish this too – have you looked into Today’s Parents?”
- (Today’s Parents rejected it too with a brief no-thanks email.)
- “This skews too old for us because our readers mostly have kids under age 10.”
- “We appreciate the chance to read your work. Unfortunately, the piece is not quite right for us and so we have decided to pass on it.”
Although I am proud of this writing, I see the editor’s perspective. As far as topics go, this one might have been a bit too soft — it lacked the shock factor that makes for good headlines.
Not every idea can be a winner.