RAISING CHILDREN: HOW WELL ARE YOU WORKING YOURSELF OUT OF A JOB?
Occasionally you see a letter like this in an advice column: “I’m a thirty-five-year-old married man whose mother expects me to file a daily itinerary with her, ‘drop by’ on a second’s request, and let her pay my bills. Trying to reason with her just evokes the tearful ‘after all I’ve done for you’ routine.”
Such extreme cases are the exception—but there’s no overall shortage of parents doing for children what the children should have long since been doing themselves. It’s usually due to one or more of the following reasons:
- Parents instinctively protect their children from pain, and instinct may not distinguish between the pain of injury and the pain of disappointment
- Parents get impatient (or perfectionistic) and find it easier to take over than wait for their children to struggle through a task.
- Parents start thinking of themselves only as parents, make life all about caring for their “babies,” and feel lost and panicky at any suggestion the babies no longer need caretaking.
Let’s examine these points one by one.
Certainly you should rush to the rescue if your preschooler is balancing on a tottering chair. But many things are best learned through trial and error and yes, even tears of frustration. Rather than try to decide what your kids are ready for, encourage them to follow their own interests. If you have real doubts they can cope with specific challenges, discuss the pros and cons with them, objectively. Consider making it a three-way conversation, bringing in another adult with experience in the relevant area.
(One caution: don’t sign your children up for anything, advanced or otherwise, without first getting their input. That approach is just another form of, “I’ll make your decisions for you.”)
“Will You Hurry Up?!”
Grabbing the shoelaces your preschooler is struggling to tie invites a tantrum. And spurning early offers of help with chores only means you’ll end up doing the work of two people for the next twelve years. Sure, it seems easier to do everything yourself than to put up with a beginner’s mess; but in the long run, all your kids will learn is that it’s preferable to sit back and let the “pros” handle everything.
If you’re having regular problems with “I’m in a hurry and the kids are taking forever to get ready,” examine your own time-management and priority-setting practices first. Learn to leave wider time margins and to incorporate life-skills practice into regular playtime. And please, be willing to live with less-than-perfectly-made beds until your children get some experience improving their techniques without your “help”!
You Have a Life, Too
Even if you’re still breastfeeding and at home all day, make time to nurture your non-parenting interests with podcasts, books, puzzles and games, or virtual chats. As your kids grow older and more independent, phase in longer periods for your hobbies, employment, or adult learning (and don’t forget good old self-pampering). By the time your youngest is grown up, you’ll be as ready for your next stage as they are for theirs. And your adult kids will be your friends for life!