“Mom, did you already send the other shoes back?!” said Fenner (age 14) with a hint of panic in her voice. She was starting a new sport and had ordered two pairs of special shoes in different sizes to see which one fit best. She had a hard time deciding, but finally chose the bigger size. Wanting my refund processed a.s.a.p., I shipped the other pair back during her first practice the next day.
I told her yes, I had dropped the package off about an hour and a half ago.
“Mom, my feet slide around in these and my heel comes up! These aren’t going to work! Why did you return the other ones?!!” she wailed. “Can we get them back?!”
“I don’t know. We can stop by on the way home and see,” I said.
“Ok!” she said and jumped in the car.
I parked near the Post Office.
“Will you come with me?”
“Nope. You can handle this.”
“Ugh! You’re so mean!”
When she came back five minutes later, she had tears in her eyes. “They sent it to the central office an hour ago…uuuuughhhhhh…I just want my shoes to be right!!!!…Mom, why did you send them back so fast?!!!”
The urge to snap back, to lecture, to “well-if-you-had-told-me” was growing stronger. I literally, consciously held my lips together and thought: What’s important here? To demand that she thank me for buying her new shoes at all and for helping send the other pair back and for taking time out of my day to drive her to the Post Office?
No. That might’ve made me feel good, but I decided to focus on her. She’s four years away from being out in the world away from us. What can she learn today? Is it possible to get a package back 2 hours after giving it to the Post Office? Let’s find out.
“If you’d like to go, I’m willing to drive you to the central office,” I said.
“Ok!” she said hopefully.
When we arrived this time she didn’t bother to ask if I’d go in with her. But she was back very quickly and on the verge of tears again. “They said they couldn’t…that it would be too hard to find.” She slumped down in her seat, defeated.
Good to know, I thought to myself, and started the drive home.
We sat in silence for a while. Then she said quietly, “Mom, can we order the small pair over again?”
“Sure, if you’re willing to pay the return shipping on the big pair.”
“Oh, fine,” she grumped.
A few more minutes passed. She gazed out the window and said calmly, “I guess I can wear my old sneakers until the new ones come. Some other people were wearing their regular sneakers.”
“Ok,” I said.
Back at home she went right to the computer and set up the order for the smaller shoes so all I had to do was fill out the payment page.
“Alright,” I said, “Now you’re going to handle this return. Here’s a box and packing tape and somewhere on that website you should be able to print out a return form.”
“What?…Where?…I can’t find it!…Oh, here it is…Which one’s the item number?…How do I put the address on the box?…Do you have a sticker?…I want to write it not print it out…Where do I put the return address?…Is it the same way as an envelope?…”
Some questions I answered and some I ignored to let her figure it out. Pretty soon we were laughing together about what a pain it is to write down all the different numbers (item#, order#, customer#) and why they all have to be so long.
In the end, Fenner had a package ready to mail and a big smile on her face. “Thanks, mom,” she said, and happily handed me money for the return.
Discouragement and fighting replaced by learning and connecting. That’s the power of Duct Tape Parenting…
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Vicki Hoefle, professional parent educator, has a new book out called Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids (Bibliomotion, August 2012), which is available at bookstores nationwide, as well as on all major online retailers, including Amazon, B&N, Indiebound, and others.