When I heard this story, I counseled Joan that she needed to make an immediate change; her kids had shifted the responsibility for getting to school on time—which was theirs—onto her all-too-accepting shoulders. But before she did she needed to sit down with her kids and tell them what was going to happen. In a calm voice, she needed to say that she wasn’t going to drive them to school anymore, that they had alarm clocks, food in the kitchen, and a bus at their disposal and that they needed to make use of them. She also needed to tell them that if they missed the bus they would still have to get themselves to school on time, which would mean they would have to walk.
Joan agreed. She knew it was the right thing to do and that she had to stop enabling her kids’ lack of responsibility. But she worried that her kids might suffer if they missed the bus again and she had to follow through. It was two miles from their home to school. And it was in the middle of winter, with temperatures in the 30s. I told her that walking a few miles would be great exercise for her kids, and if she worried they’d be cold she should suggest they wear gloves and hats.
That night, Joan sat down with her kids. Without yelling or getting angry, she told them that from then on she expected them to take the bus to school every morning. She said she would no longer be available to drive them. If they missed the bus because they were late getting up, they would have to get to school on their own.
Well, the next morning came, and guess what? Her kids rolled out of bed at the last minute as usual and asked her to drive them to school “just one more time.” But Joan held the line. She told them she wasn’t going to drive them, as she had warned, and recommended they wear gloves and hats for the walk to school.
Her kids couldn’t believe it. They yelled, they pleaded, they told her she was a terrible mother for making her children walk to school in such cold weather. Her son, the major manipulator, even threatened to call Child Protective Services. Both kids were still protesting when they finally bundled up, slammed out the door, and headed down the driveway.
But they walked. And they made it to school (Joan called the school to make sure). And from then on they woke up in time to take the bus; Joan never had to drive them to school again. By holding firm she