My daughter and I walked into Target and headed straight for the pet aisle.

She had around $40.00 left on a gift card she’d been saving, and she wanted to buy supplies for the kitten she was planning to adopt.

She made her choices carefully, picking out a scratching pole, cat food, litter, a scooper, a couple of kitten toys, and shampoo.

She added up each item as she put it into the cart, making sure the total would be under $40.00.

It was fun to watch, and I was proud of her for wanting to pay for everything herself.

When she was done, she said, “We need to go to Customer Service before we pay, Mommy. I want to check exactly how much I have on here.” She held up the card with a big smile.

“Looks like you have $16.99,” the woman at Customer Service said.

My daughter shook her head.

“I thought you had $40.00,” I told her.

“I thought so too.” Her face fell.

Everything in me wanted to come to her rescue.

I looked at all the things she’d so thoughtfully picked out–the kitten toys, the scratching pole, even the litter. She’d been saving money for months for a kitten, and she’d been holding onto that gift card specifically for supplies.

My heart broke as I saw the disappointment in her face.

And I debated…

Should I step in and help her pay? She’d been so responsible, and she could still pay for the kitten like she wanted to…

But something in me knew that wasn’t the right thing to do.

She looked at me and shrugged. “Let’s go, Mommy. I have to figure out what to put back.”

She headed to the pet aisle again.

I followed with a lump in my throat.

She didn’t even ask for me to pay for the supplies.

And, honestly, that made me want to help her even more.

Still, I kept quiet as I watched her look at the things in the cart, check the prices again, and try to decide what to take out.

She picked up a kitten toy and hugged it. “It’s so cute,” she said.

Then she put it on the shelf.

The scratching pole, shampoo, and cat food followed.

All that was left in the cart was the scooper and the litter, which added up to almost exactly $16.00.

“I’ll save up for the other stuff and come back.” She smiled.

And I almost started bawling right there.

Even though she’d run into a bump in the road, she worked through it.

By herself.

And as I watched her pay for that scooper and litter with her gift card, I realized she was just as happy and proud of herself as she would’ve been if she’d been able to buy everything she’d originally picked out.

That’s when I knew, even though it was hard for me not to come to her rescue, and even though I almost did, I did the right thing by not helping her.

And I learned a valuable lesson.

Sometimes, I catch myself wanting to step in and make things easier for my kids.

It breaks my heart when they face adversity.

But I was reminded that it’s often that very adversity that builds character.

If I had helped my daughter pay for those supplies, sure, I would’ve made things easier for her. But she would’ve missed out on the experience of working through the disappointment herself.

She would’ve missed out on saving more money and waiting to buy something she wanted.

And she would’ve missed out on the joy of going back to the store, days later, and buying the supplies all on her own.

Now, every time my daughter tells someone about her new kitten (which she has since adopted), the first thing she says is, “I paid for everything myself!”

And if I would’ve helped her that day, she would’ve missed out on that, too.


17 Comments on The lesson in the pet aisle at Target

  1. Wow.Last week, we took the kids ice skating for the first time. Alex (4 1/2) is like his mommy: he never wants to do anything that he can't do well. And I was afraid that all the falling down would turn him off to ever going skating again. So I started trying to give him all kinds of instructions to make it easier. But finally I learned what you figured out in the first place: keep your mouth shut and let them do it themselves.

  2. Wonderful story. I'd be like you, sad but knowing this is the best way for my child to learn.You did the right thing and your daughter sounds wise already. :-)

  3. What a great story. Taught me a good lessons, too. I'm very quick to help my kids out and to make something difficult into something easy. Maybe it's because some things have already been so difficult for them. But I'm trying…more so with Parker right now…to let them make some choices on their own…to learn how to handle it without my intervention. Boy, it's hard to keep my mouth shut, though!Peace.Jeanine

  4. Jeanine,I know what you mean about keeping quiet. And you're right; your kids have been through so much… I can understand how it would be even harder not to intervene. Thanks for sharing!Genny

  5. This is such a terrific and inspiring story. I always try to step in and help my kids whenever I can, but I love the character building that you discuss in this story and realize that while it may solve the short term problem, in the long term I'm not really helping. What a great daughter you have too.

  6. Genny, I had a lump in my throat when I read this. I could so feel your emotions here! I think the fact that your daughter handled this the way she did means you have been making good parenting choices for years… She must be so proud of herself for saving up her money and doing everything herself, including making those hard choices at the store. Way to go, Mom!

  7. I'm not the pushover in the family…that would be my husband. Whenever my son "goes over" at the store, he fronts him the rest. I'm usually not there when it happens, so I don't have much intervention at that point. We need to sharpen our skills in that area. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Thanks for chiming in, everyone. Kellie, I like how you said "sharpen your skills"… I think that's so much of what parenting is about. But the funny thing is… it seems like as soon as you master things, your kids move on to a new phase, and you have to sharpen all over again! :)Genny

  9. Oh Genny—this was so great and I learned so much while reading it. I wanted to help her too as I read but toward the end realized the wisdom behind your choice of letting her resolve the issue on her own…what a mature girl she is!!!

  10. It is hard not to step in – knowing when to and not to, children are so different. My oldest son went to college in our home town. He had have a years rent paid for before he could move out. Yes, I cried when he packed up to move 20 minutes away. He thanked me later for "independence with training wheels." What a beautiful mom moment you had! Those are the best moments!

  11. That's "my girl!" Thank you for sharing this story. I am so proud of her and of you, Genny. What a wonderful example of determination and self-discipline. Big hug!! :-)

  12. Love hearing from you all! And, Deanna, thanks for commenting. (For everyone else, Deanna was my daughter's coach last year. She's an amazing woman and an incredible coach!)Hugs,Genny

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