Letting kids deal with the consequences of their actions isn't easy

It's sitting there on the dining room table, a crumpled bag barely able to stand on its own. Inside are three plastic containers: one with pretzels, one with whole-wheat crackers and peanut butter, and one with three chocolate-chip cookies. Sometimes oat bran, popcorn, or sunflower seeds replace the pretzels, but essentially the sack lunch is always the same. It never contains fruit and vegetables.

It's 10 a.m.

Why is the sack still on the dining room table? Because my 12-year-old, who refuses to eat school lunches, forgot to put his lunch in his backpack. I was talking to him about homework as he organized his backpack and collected soccer equipment. As usual, I handed him his lunch, but he was getting irritated as he paced around, collecting his things, and just wanted to leave as quickly as possible.

"Have a good day," I called from the porch as he quickly strode down the sidewalk. When I walked back into the house, his lunch was still sitting on the table.

I told him at the beginning of the school year that he would be responsible for remembering everything in the morning. No longer would I dash to school with a forgotten lunch, homework assignment, or soccer shoe. It's not that he is absent-minded, but I wanted him to become better organized and more self-reliant.

I'm tempted to take the lunch to him because I want his day to go well. I don't want him to suffer the disappointment of digging through his backpack and finding nothing to eat. I don't want him to buy a school lunch and only nibble at it.

The easy thing would be to hop in the car and drive to the school in three minutes with a smile and his lunch. The hard thing is to stay here, typing away, trying to take my mind off the sack.

In my heart I know that as kids grow up, less is more. Good parenting is often defined by what you don't do for your child rather than by what you do. Doing less for your child as he grows older encourages responsibility and clear thinking.

If the bag remains on the table and I remain at my keyboard, my son will experience disappointment and possibly hunger. But he will remember my admonition: "This year if you forget anything, I'm not bringing it to school."

I will keep my word.

He will learn that unless he puts it in his backpack, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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