My husband has a gift.
Besides his handsomely rugged smile and trademark “dad voice” that can make little people listen instantly (unlike when mom’s been yelling that “it’s dinnertime” for the last fifteen minutes to no avail), he has one more trick up his cardigan sleeves: his ability to successfully encourage our children to do things for themselves.
When it comes to daily life, even the tiniest every day task can immensely frustrate or prove challenging for our children. Fastening the button on their pants. Fetching a cup of water for themselves. Finding their lost shoe. Remembering to do what few daily chores we give them
I don’t know about you, but when little things like that happen in our home it can easily become an international event. My first reaction as a mother is to quickly intervene and problem solve on behalf of my children.
My husband’s approach is usually different.
He works his magic and coaxes our children to solve their own problems. He talks them through the process in a bid to see if they can find a reasonable solution independently. He reminds them to finish a set task that is given to them, or to remember the daily behaviors and manners we expect from them. And to make matters even more mysterious, they are actually willing to listen to him!
What sorcery is this??
We can talk about the fact that moms are (usually, but not always) the parents who are inherently programmed to want to meet every.single.one. of their children’s needs on an almost molecular level without it sounding reductive, right?
This isn’t some special skill-set we develop all on our own, either. This is one that nature and biology figures we will be needing post-birth, along with hemorrhoids and thrush apparently.
Since our children spend almost an entire year inside of us developing, moms get a jump on the whole lifetime-of-service-and-hospitality-thing starting when we are hunched over the toilet with morning sickness and indigestion, long before baby is even born.
We moms are programmed to hear the crying, coughing and sneezing in the middle of the night. Our brains are never turned completely off. That is, unless we are trying to accomplish something that doesn’t directly pertain to our children, like remembering what day it is and our real name. Here’s a hint, it isn’t, “mom!!”
It turns out that since having children, my brain is sometimes about as useful as a pile of soggy spaghetti noodles…unless I need to assemble a sippy cup in record time.
There is scientific proof behind the notion of “mom brain.” It is real.
Not only am I programmed with the inescapable urge to meet all of my tiny love demons’ needs, I am also a woman who has ten things on her to do list at any given point during the day.
Stopping suddenly to teach someone the proper way to tie their shoes, sort toys into the correct bins, and scrape bits of food off dinner plates into the trash requires time. And we all know just how much extra time we have as parents, right?
More often than not, I will stop what I’m doing. But it’s to finish putting my children’s toys away for them. To tie their shoes and help them button their pants. It’s to search out that long lost My Little Pony toy from underneath of the sofa. It’s so I can clear their plates for them when they forget.
Because the quickest way through each obstacle is the one that doesn’t require too much of my patience and sanity. It’s the one that doesn’t require me to teach life lessons when we have somewhere to be in eighteen minutes.
But…is this behavior on my part really the quickest way through?
Or, am I actually setting my children up with the expectations that someone will always be there to help shoulder their responsibilities and cover for them when they fall short?
Am I crafting a world where my children value my service to them as a mother, so that they in turn develop an deep appreciation for other people serving them throughout their lives, like a server at a restaurant, the cashier at the grocery store or even a friend who helps them when they’re in a bind?
Am I actually being too child-centered to realize that part of being an efficient, dutiful and loving parent is teaching our children that our world does not revolve exclusively around them?
I don’t actually want to answer those questions. I was just asking.
I don’t know about the rest of you reading this post, but the daily challenges of parenting are difficult enough. There is no such thing as having enough patience, because it is constantly siphoned out of you in a steady stream of requests for cartoons and string cheese.
For a long time, I have fallen into the trap of thinking that it was better to resolve an issue quickly, rather than using it as a valuable teaching opportunity that could slowly bear fruit, and change the way my children and I relate to one another.
The gist? I am not their maid. I am not their nanny. I am not their personal chef, their cruise boat entertainment director or their personal sock finder.
Im their mother. And also, as it turns out, I’m a person.
There are many practical and spiritual reasons why we should empower our children to become their own problem solvers.
Here are just a few:
1.) You already have a lot on your plate
You already feed, clothe, bathe and tend to your children. You already facilitate their routines and schedules. You already manage their belongings. You already take them to the doctor, get them out the door to school, tend to them when they’re ill and comfort them when they’re upset.
It sounds like the most basic of truths, but it IS true: momma, you already have a lot on your plate when it comes to taking care of your children.
Which means that it is totally reasonable to expect that your children can accomplish age appropriate tasks for themselves as they grow.
It’s that simple.
2.) Chores never hurt anyone
I don’t ascribe to the way of thinking that children need to walk fifteen miles uphill in the snow to school in order for them to turn into decent human beings. But chores and hard work actually DO build great character.
Your children should know the pleasure of a job well done, and sense of pride that comes from accomplishing something on their own. And the best part is that it won’t kill them. Even if they moan and act like it will. When they resist, you know you’re on the right path.
3.) Fostering independence builds confidence
Much like potty training, zipping their jackets for the first time, or the moment they realize that they have cleaned their entire room themselves, there is nothing like seeing a child’s face light up when they have accomplished something entirely on their own.
We can’t expect independent thinking to stem from the schools they attend, the friends they hang out with or to pop up when they finally move out of the nest on their own.
A strong sense of character and identity starts at home. And it can come from encouraging them to problem solve and work dutifully over the course of their entire lifetime.
4.) We are seeing the negative affects of a child-centered culture
Parents today, in my very personal view, are afraid of upsetting their children. They’re afraid of the tantrums. They’re afraid to let them down. They’re afraid to simply say no.
When we work for our children, instead of positioning ourselves as the guiding parent, we are fostering lifelong view where they subconsciously believe that all of their needs will always be fulfilled exactly how they want them. Where they believe that they will always be happy.
And if they aren’t? Then it must be someone else’s fault.
Part of life is difficulty, pain and even disillusionment. It is never the job of the parent to be the causes of those things. We are never called to exacerbate or provoke our children.
But it is our job to love our children enough to give them a positive outlook on such things. Part of that is not shielding them from something that is hard simply because it’s hard.
5.) You don’t want to raise brats.
So, I know that sounds horrible. And I’m the first person to object to naming children as “a*******” or “brats.” Because children are children. But, really….
I’m not saying that you’re going to destroy your child’s entire life if you find their missing shoes for them. I’m not saying that if you cut the crust off of their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that you’re enabling their privilege.
But we must correct the heart behind negative behavior as much as we must address the actual behavior.
I want my children to not only become capable people as they grow, but I want them to do it for the right reasons. I want them to have a sense of gratitude for the food on the table, the warm blankets on their beds and the shoes on their feet.
I want them to know that raising a family requires work, even on those lazy days out to the park with a picnic lunch. Every good thing requires the work or sacrifice of someone else. It is never free. Nothing ever just happens.
Encouraging independence in our children, giving them chores and enabling an attitude and cultivating a heart that is helpful and grateful and joyful for all that they have will help them open their eyes to the privileges and blessings that we are afforded in this country. It is teaching them to be aware in this world.
And it all must start in the home.
It is one more successful notch in the calling to send them out as straight arrows, tried and true.
Ready to fly.