Yesterday I whined a bit about parents who don't notify the school when their kids will be absent—or who do notify the school but fail to give the required information. I also mentioned parents who bring their kids to school late every single day. This struck a chord with Margaret (a teacher), who left this comment: "Do NOT get me started on parents who bring their kids late every day to school...." You're preaching to the choir on this one, Margaret.
I have absolutely no patience for people who are late all the time. In my mind, chronic tardiness does not indicate "Oh, I'm so scatterbrained!" or "Oh, my life is so hectic!" No, it means, "I have no respect for other people." I know that sounds harsh, but I really believe it. Being late more often than not carries an implicit assumption that everyone will wait for you—whether it's your dinner companions at the restaurant or the co-workers at your meeting or the members of your carpool.
It's one thing to be late all the time, and it's quite another to make your kids late all the time. Until kids are old enough to get around themselves, they rely on their parents. If your kids can't get up, get dressed, get breakfast, and get to school all on their own, then it's up to you to do make it happen on time. If your second-grader is a slowpoke, you the parent have to move things along. Pick out clothes the night before, have cold cereal for breakfast, prepare a backpack "packing list"—whatever you need to do.
I think that parents who allow their kids to be late to school frequently are doing them a terrible disservice. Sure, it's no big deal if you miss the first five minutes of school when you're in third grade—that's not the point. The problem is that the kid learns that there are no consequences for being late. "I come late every day, and nothing bad ever happens!" But it does start to matter in middle school and high school, and certainly beyond. What happens when you're late to the theater? The show starts without you and you don't get to go in until intermission. Late to your job interview? Back to Monster.com you go. Late to the airport? Plane goes bye-bye—without you.
I've mentioned before a wonderful management training course I took back in my in-house days. One of the things we learned—something that seems so simple when you take a minute to look at it—is not to reward behavior you don't want.* The classic example is the guy who arrives late to every meeting. What usually happens is that everyone waits around for him, thus reinforcing his assumption that his lateness is no problem. He has no incentive to arrive on time, because he knows that the meeting won't begin until he gets there. It's very likely that this is a completely subconscious realization—he doesn't come late as some sort of power play, he comes late because he can. In our course we learned to begin the meeting even if it means that important input is missing or that material will need to be gone over again. When the guy walks in, he'll find that someone is mid-sentence, and that he has no idea what went on already. Let him know that his lateness does matter—and that it's not a good thing.
I remember an open house with the middle-school principal and all the parents of incoming middle-schoolers. After a brief introduction and the first few few questions and answers, a mom entered the meeting, late, and had the nerve to ask a question—which just happened to be something we'd already covered! The principal was gracious and re-answered the question without hesitation, but the rest of us were scowling. At the very least, the mom should have prefaced the question with, "I apologize in advance if you answered the following question before I got here, but...." But no, as far as she was concerned, the meeting began when she got there.
Be respectful of other people's time. It might not seem like a big deal to you if you're five minutes late, but there may be repercussions you can't even fathom. You might have set in motion a domino effect that will take the rest of the day to right. Or you might just piss someone off.
*As with most things I learned from this course, not rewarding unwanted behavior also happens to be one of the keys to parenting. If your kid whines for a cookie and you say no, whines for a cookie and you say no, whines for a cookies and you say no, whines for a cookie and you say yes, guess what the kid learns? Whining works. Think about it.