I had the great pleasure of going to a presentation by Dr. Karyn Gordon at Eldest’s school recently. Her talk was entitled “Raising Kids in an Age of Overindulgence,” and I came away from the night with so much practical help. If you ever get a chance to hear her in person, take it. She’s not only a wonderfully dynamic speaker, her talks are crisp, on-point and so well organized.
The piece that resonated most strongly with me, and that fits so well for our month of posts on Doing It Yourself, was her discussion of how parents have to stop over-functioning for their kids.
Are you your child’s alarm clock/maid/chef/chauffeur/laundress/bank machine? Do you find yourself resentful and stressed in one or more of those roles? Do you notice that your kids are not in the least bit motivated to act for themselves because you are their snowplow, clearing their path through life for them?
Gordon used the image of a teeter-totter to illustrate her point: when one person does all the work on the see-saw, the other person slacks off and stops working. When you do too much for your children, they not only fail to learn how to cook/clean/manage time/manage money/eat well/etc, they stop looking for ways to learn those skills. Why should they?! You have removed all their motivation to do so by doing it yourself.
Well, in the spirit of DIY month, I did an inventory of the ways I may be over-functioning for my kids, and I handed in my resignation as the household alarm clock, bank machine and short order cook. “Kids,” I said, “from now on, you will be doing more for yourselves.”
You know what? It worked beautifully!
Eldest is already his own alarm clock, and at 13 he gets up, out the door and onto the subway before I am awake most days. But I sat down with Middlest and Youngest and helped them to write up their morning routine and timetable. I’m still prompting them to look at the clock, but there’s no more nagging about time to get dressed/brush teeth/pack backpacks. Glorious.
Then I took the little kids out to the toy store with their wallets and let them loose. When we travel without their money, it’s an endless litany of “Can you get me this?” from the snack booth at the subway to the candy machines at the rink to the impulse items in the check out lines. I am very good at sticking to my guns and not giving in, but I do get so, so very tired of saying no. This time, I took them to the bank machine to check their bank balances and then set them loose. They spent over an hour looking at Lego and video games, then they spent about $10 each. That’s it, that’s all. Littlest also bought himself a pack of gum at the subway newsstand and then proudly spent the next week offering all and sundry a piece of gum. It was wonderful to witness their care and generosity.
And, beginning this week, Eldest will be cooking one family meal a week. It must be balanced and it must be healthy. From the age of 13, Gordon says, kids should be able to prepare a simple family meal, and I don’t think I could be happier to let one night of meal prep go. He is already an able helper in the kitchen, and he makes the most beautiful fruit and vegetable platters, like this one he made for a Habs playoffs game party last year.
I think we are both more than ready for him to take the reins one night a week.
How about you? What have you happily delegated to your kids?