I’ve started a new exercise regime. I go as many times as possible and I love everything about it except one thing, getting out the door in the morning.
It’s not what you’d think. I don’t hate getting up early or packing my bag or even mustering up the motivation, the problem lies with my children.
For the past six years I’ve been waking them every morning and walking them through the motions of their morning routine. This made sense because I'm a stay at home mother and so we got into the habit of me doing a lot of the leg work; packing lunches, readying backpacks, etc...
That was all well and good until I needed some time to myself in the morning to get ready for Bikram yoga. That really put a crimp in their style because I started expecting them to take a little more responsibility for themselves.
This didn’t go over well. It set in motion a chain of events that included refusals to get up and children who moved in slow motion and struggled to keep themselves organized. This was stressful for all of us. Suddenly, five people were trying to get ready in the morning and since Mom is mom and I almost always end up putting myself dead last in order of importance, most of the stress ended up on my shoulders.
Boy was I ready to see my yoga mat when I got to class! And it got me to thinking.
Am I harming my children by not expecting more from them?
At breakfast this morning, I gave my kids my version of walking through the snow, both ways, uphill and barefoot.
“When I was your age, my parents both left for work at 6am. That meant I was responsible for getting dressed, tidying my room, making breakfast, packing up my things and making it to the bus stop by 6:45. And I did it alone!”
They looked at me with an expression that said, “Would you like us to call a waaaambulance?”
By contrast, my fifth grader struggles to do something as simple as comb her hair in the morning! She does a pretty good job at the front but she only gets half way down her head until the tangles start so she stops there and leaves a matted nest of knots in the back. It’s not a good look!
It’s not that I expect that she should struggle like I did. We are blessed that I don’t have to be to work in the morning, that I can make them a warm breakfast every morning and that I can run her clarinet to the school if she forgets it. But there’s no reason that she shouldn’t be able to go through her morning routine without me having to remind her every step of the way.
Parenting is often described as “raising children.” I once heard someone say that we shouldn’t “raise children” we should “raise adults.” After all, we don’t want to raise a generation of grownups who are still children, adults who aren’t mature or can take care of themselves because they've always had a parent who did everything for them.
That doesn’t mean that kids shouldn’t be allowed to be kids. They are little and they need help and guidance but they also need to be constantly learning new skills and challenged at making progression.
The process of parenting should be a process of letting go…slowly. Children are completely dependent in the beginning and soon they start feeding themselves and going to the bathroom without help. Eventually they start to bathe themselves and dress themselves and each year should be a step closer and closer to independence.
I have five years to teach my fifth grader how to be an independent young woman. I’m not doing her any favors by waking her up every morning or packing her homework. My job should be to provide her with the environment where she can safely learn to take over some responsibility for herself.
There is so much for her to learn! She has to practice managing her time. She needs to learn how to be organized. She must struggle with taking initiative. My mind is overwhelmed when I think of all she needs to know before she’s off on her own. Someone should make a checklist! Until then, I’m going to start with these ten things:
- Learn to manage money (balance a checking account, pay bills)
- Know how to do your own laundry.
- Learn how to care of a car (change a tire, check the oil, get routine checkups)
- Be responsible with time (make it to class and work on time)
- Know how to clean a home and use lawn equipment.
- Be able to cook at least five healthy and balanced meals.
- Know how to keep healthy (eat plenty of vegetables, drink lots of water, exercise daily, schedule regular checkups and keep balance in their lives)
- Learn how to manage all kinds of relationships.
- Know how to avoid unsafe situations.
- Have a variety of skills like how to sew a button on a shirt or how to change a light fixture.
There is a lot to learn and when I consider how fast the first ten years have gone, I worry that I might already be behind the 8 ball. Some of those things, learning to manage relationships for example, are skills that take years, lifetimes to master. But I have to start somewhere. I need to get all of my children to a good starting point before I send them out into the world. This won't happen if I'm fighting their battles and not taking the time to teach them the details of life.
How can I expect them to fly if I’m too afraid to let them try out their wings? When it boils down to it, the reason I’ve been afraid to give them too much (seemingly) independence has to do with me, not them. I make excused like, "they're too little!" I’ve also got it in my head that in order to qualify myself as a “good mom”, I need to do everything I can for my children. But that line of thinking is actually pretty selfish. It’s based in what is good for me, not them. I get to feel good about taking care of them. Plus, if I’m honest about it, it feels pretty darned good to be needed by my children and that’s a pretty big payoff.
It’s time that I start measuring my success by a different yardstick, by one that shows how much independence they have and how much they can accomplish without me looking over their shoulder. Perhaps my view would be better from the bleachers, not standing behind them, ready to catch them if they fall.
Chances are, from that angle I’ll have a much better view of all they can accomplish. Plus, it will place me in the perfect position to give a standing ovation.
What do you think? Do parents do too much for their kids? Is this helping them or hurting them in the end?