The lesson in the pet aisle at Target…

*post originally published 2009

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.

What about you? Do you find yourself wanting to rescue your kids when they hit a bump in the road? Do you have a time you can share where you’ve seen your kids grow by facing adversity or disappointment?


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  1. Jes

    Aw. This is sweet and it’s a good reminder to me. I think I jump in to help too often and I should let them work it through themselves. It is a really hard thing to do! =)

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