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When parenting well is simple yet difficult

The rain is pouring down in sheets, pounding on the top of our minivan so loudly that it’s hard to hear the voice of my seven-year-old daughter in the row behind me. As I slowly drive through the parking lot, looking for an empty space, I see that there are three designated spots for handicapped parking, and all of them are available – right at the front, next to the entrance.

Glancing down at the handicapped placard on the passenger seat next to me, I grit my teeth in frustration. The lot is almost completely full. The only other available spots are in the back of the lot, a couple hundred yards away from the doors, and we have no umbrellas or raincoats. We’ll certainly be drenched by the time we get inside.

My daughter is watching all this from the back seat. As I sigh in resignation, she raises her voice and hollers, “Too bad Laura* isn’t with us! Then we could park in the handicapped spot!”

“Yeah…” I pause, wrestling with a moment of temptation. Then – “Too bad,” I say, and turn the wheel. We head away from the front doors and toward the back of the parking lot. And in doing so, I make a simple yet difficult decision.

Because I probably could have parked in one of those spots designated for handicapped parking. I have a handicapped placard that I can hang from my rear view mirror anytime. It’s sitting right there on the passenger seat. And more than likely, no one would have been the wiser. More than likely, no one would have questioned me about it at all.

But that placard is not for me. It’s for my younger daughter, Laura. I’ve written about her here before; she has cerebral palsy. Though she can walk on her own now, she qualifies for a handicapped parking placard because she has trouble walking very far without falling down, which is obviously quite unsafe in parking lots.

So, her doctor wrote up a prescription for a handicapped parking permit, and we headed over to the Department of Motor Vehicles. When we finally got to the front of the line, the lady behind the counter read the prescription, pulled out the handicapped placard, and began rattling off the rules of engagement in her nasally Southern drawl.

“Now, you can only use this permit when your daughter will be entering or exiting the vehicle, understand? If she’s not in the vehicle, then you can’t use it. If she’s not going to be entering or exiting the vehicle, you can’t use it. It’s not for you, or anyone else to use. If you use it illegally, you will be fined in the amount of…” She continued to talk, and I was nodding over and over, to show I understood. I got it. Yep, I got it.

And standing alongside me all the while was not just Laura, but my older daughter, as well. She heard it all; she knows the rules. She knows that unless Laura is with us in the car and will be exiting or entering the vehicle, we absolutely cannot use the handicapped placard. It would be cheating the system. It would be dishonest.

PARENTING_WELLPhoto by Rory MacLeod

As we drive back toward the empty parking spots, the rain continues to pound relentlessly on the roof of our van. I smile at my daughter in the rear view mirror and say loudly, over the din, “Wouldn’t you know it? We finally get some good rain and, of course, we forget our umbrellas!” She laughs and says, “Yeah! I know we’re not allowed to use the handicapped spots when Laura’s not here, so I should’ve remembered to bring my rain jacket! Oh, well!”

We jump out of the minivan and hurry up to the entrance as fast as we can, holding hands and keeping our heads ducked. We are indeed drenched by the time we make it there. But I’m thinking about what’s really at stake.

Soaking wet clothing, hair dripping down our backs. These things are annoying in the moment, but they’re nothing compared to the bigger picture: raising a child with integrity, helping a child to grow in character.

If I do the thing that she knows is wrong – even though I most likely won’t get caught – what will that say to her?

If I do the thing that is dishonest but most convenient for us at the time – even though no one else will probably ever know – what will that teach her?

The decision felt difficult. I hate running through the rain, getting drenched. But it was a simple choice in the end. Simple doesn’t always mean easy. Doing what’s right isn’t always the easy way. And parenting is full of these kinds of choices (sigh).

But the little choices that we make, day after day, add up to a life, and our lives are not lived in anonymity, but out in the open. Our children see us; they watch us and they learn from us. It seems like doing the simple yet difficult thing is usually the right thing.

Now, off to find some dry towels…

*name has been changed for privacy

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17 Comments

  1. Mandi

    I love this, Katie—I think we face those decisions a million times a day as parents, and it’s a great reminder that how we choose is a huge part of parenting well.

    • Katie Fox

      thanks, Mandi!

  2. Kariane

    Indeed, we’re always setting an example for our children, and also setting an example for our future selves. Doing something once makes it easier to do it the next time, for better or for worse. I know the choices aren’t always easy — thank you for being open and sharing your dilemma.

    • Katie Fox

      So true, Kariane. I was thinking of the parenting context when I wrote this, but it applies to ourselves just as well.

  3. Kirsten Holmberg

    I can relate, Katie, for a different reason. Our state has restricted driving licenses for youth: no driving before sunrise until you’re 16 (can be licensed at 15). Many folks let their teen drivers drive to school even in the dark. We didn’t because of exactly what you say: what will that teach her? How do I tell her it’s okay to disobey one law because it’s convenient for me/us but that all others should be heeded? Stand firm, friend, even when it’s difficult. 🙂

    • Katie Fox

      Wow, that’s interesting, Kirsten. Definitely the same kind of dilemma – and the same kind of impact on kids, too. Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Wendy Mayo

    This post touched my heart and made me cry. My boys are grown and out of the home, but I remember feelings similar to these. It is so true that we need to be example of integrity for our children. Thank you for sharing this lovely story.

    • Katie Fox

      I appreciate your words, Wendy!

  5. Karen

    It’s those little decisions that are made and seen that impact SO deeply! YEP, simple yet sometimes so difficult!

    • Katie Fox

      Thanks for your comment, Karen!

  6. Lydia

    It reminds me of that song “oh be careful little eyes what you see.” Aren’t we the thing our kids see? What kind of picture do we want to paint? Great post!

    • Katie Fox

      Thanks, Lydia! I don’t know that song but it sounds like it’s full of wisdom. 🙂

  7. Michelle

    Lovely, lovely post and great reminder. Thank you for sharing.

    • Katie Fox

      Thanks so much, Michelle.

  8. Mercedes

    Congratulations Katie, deep inside your child will remember this lesson forever!

    Simple… yet SO difficult… true.

  9. Priya

    Love this post! As a parent, I remember making such decisions many times, when I know I am setting an example in front of her.

  10. Rusty

    Good on you Katie, it’s so refreshing to read about someone with integrity, and who wants to pass those value on. So much we hear and see around us is about getting what we want, at the expense of other people if necessary, not about doing the right thing. I have a friend who uses her son’s permit to park when she is on her own. She justifies it somehow, I don’t remember her exact words but something about how she deserves a break. Tough to criticise anyone in this situation, I sympathise I really do but I can’t help feeling that she is smaller in my eyes now.

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