When Eden Strong saw the tears in her daughter's eyes and the detention slip in her hand, she felt like she'd failed as a mother. The worst part was knowing that it was her fault that her first-grader had been tardy so many times.
That's when she came up with the perfect way to teach her daughter about taking responsibility—she would serve the detention instead.
As she writes in Babble, at the time, Eden was a single mother with two jobs and very little time to rest. The exhausted mom was trying to cope on four hours of sleep a night, which meant frantic mornings and a few tardy appearances at school. Though she says they were never more than five minutes late, after being tardy four times in three months, her daughter was given detention.
Eden wanted to show her daughter that the rule about taking responsibility for your actions applied to parents as well. She wrote the teacher a note explaining that the tardiness was her fault and that she should serve the detention instead. As her note explained:
"I’m respectfully refusing to send my daughter to detention on Thursday. I work a job that requires a great deal of overnight hours in addition to my daytime job, and because of it I have had a difficult time managing my schedule. The reason that she has been late has nothing to do with her and everything to do with me. I was wrong, unintentionally disrespectful, and I truly apologize for the disruption that she caused the class by coming in late.
Although I would never advocate for a blatant disregard of the rules, I teach my daughter to take responsibility for her actions. If she did something wrong and a friend was punished because of it, I would expect her to step up and make it right. Therefore, I would like to serve detention in her place and allow her to learn the real lessons in this situation. I was wrong and I would like not only the opportunity to make it right, but to be able to set a better example for my daughter than I have been doing."
While the teacher understood and approved Eden's plan, the principal did not. When Eden arrived at the school, he told her that if her daughter didn't serve the detention, she would be banned from recess. When Eden protested, the conversation devolved until the principal was threatening to report her for truancy.
A tearful Eden drove immediately to the school superintendent's office, questioning whether the lesson she was trying to pass on was worth it. Fortunately, she found a sympathetic ear and a superintendent who agreed to let her serve the detention.
The next day, Eden showed up at school to spend her first-ever detention in the office of an amused Vice Principal. She writes:
If you’re wondering what exactly a 31-year-old looks like serving detention at an elementary school, it looks a little something like this: While all the other kids sat at a boardroom table down the hall, they had me sit in chair across from the desk of the vice principal. Due to childcare issues, my daughter actually did end up coming with me, and while I spent my time in detention making sure she understood why I was there, the vice principal spent her time offering my daughter a board game or a book.
Eventually, Eden learned that the rule that landed her in detention was a creation of the principal, not the school district. As she tells Independent Journal Review:
“It wasn't in the handbook and the superintendent agreed that there was no district rule involving detention and tardiness ... it seemed to have been some assumed policy that the principal had adopted, but even then it wasn't in any handouts or anything.”
More than two years later, Eden says that the principal is still holding a grudge, either for the correction from his superiors or the way she defied his detention edict.
Fortunately, Eden has a good relationship with the assistant principal and her daughter continues to attend the same school. She tells Independent Journal Review:
“So if [the principal] wants to dislike us, by all means go ahead, as I'm not super thrilled about the way he was attempting to teach my daughter.”
The principal's enmity has had another effect as well. Taking responsibility wasn't the only lesson her daughter learned from “the day Mommy served detention.” Eden says that every time the principal gives her the cold shoulder, her daughter assures her that it's more important to do the right thing than to worry about being liked. As Eden tells Independent Journal Review:
"My daughter learned how to stand up for what you believe ... and that even if you can get away with something you did wrong and let someone else take the blame, that you shouldn't because it's not right.
She adds: “She also learned that not everyone will like you for creating waves in an effort to make things right, but that doesn't mean that you were wrong for creating them.”