Last week I had a bit of a meltdown. Probably more accurate to say temper tantrum. I was overtired. I was frustrated. I was feeling sorry for myself over all the demands that life, work and my family placed on me and “my” time. So, I did what any reasonable mama blogger would do. I ate a ginormous bagel, and wrote about it. It was in the writing that I realized, my family was not the problem. I was.
You can read more about that super-fun realization here: An Epiphany with a Side of Cream Cheese
The long and short of the post was that, with the best of intentions, I had been coddling my family and doing things for them that they could be doing for themselves. I thought I was dependable. Actually, I was making them dependent on me.
If you don’t act on new information and understanding, nothing will ever change. Here are some practical steps I am taking right now to encourage my children to become more independent.
#1 – I finish my cereal. Or my email. Or my conversation with my husband. Whatever it is that I am in the middle of doing, I no longer drop everything for them. Questions such as “what do baby dinosaurs eat?” and “when are you going to do my laundry?” must now wait until Mama is done with her coffee. In the past I have unwittingly signaled to my children that their every thought, whim or want was of utmost importance. When I allow them to interrupt a conversation, or if I drop what I’m doing to do something for them – what message am I sending?
“Yes, your majesty. Right away, your majesty.”
NO. MORE. Now I simply say, “Excuse me. You are interrupting. You will have to wait.” They will be fine. They will not perish.
#2 – I make them carry their own stuff. I know that sounds so basic, but how many times do you absentmindedly load your arms with all the backpacks, sippy cups, dolls, jackets, grocery bags and more? Meanwhile your kids run off into the house without a single thought or care as to who is schlepping all their stuff. My kids probably think it’s a unicorn.
For the past week I have been flatly saying “No” when they ask me to carry their stuff. They carry their backpacks. They carry their jackets and toys. They help carry the groceries. I am no longer the sherpa.
My eldest, who is 7, seems to be catching on. Now when we get home from the grocery store, she’ll say, “Mama, can I help you carry anything?” Voila.
#3 – I let them fail. This is hard. SO SO hard. But it is also so necessary. It is my nature to jump in and take over the moment I see one of my kids struggling. That is not fair to them, though. I think it is actually detrimental to their growth. If you’re never allowed to make a mistake, then you don’t know that it is actually OKAY to make mistakes. It is actually BENEFICIAL to make mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn and grow. Mistakes are what keep us humble and focused. Instead, kids are often terrified of making a mistake because they’ve had no practice. When you’re scared to make a mistake, you end up anxious, depressed and closed off from new experiences.
It’s not easy, but I’m standing back and letting my kids spill the milk. Literally. The 7-year-old is old enough and responsible enough to pour a bowl of cereal and a cup of chocolate milk. What’s more, she likes doing it. She loves being autonomous, and caring for her younger sister. Yes, she makes a mess sometimes. When she does, I tell her, “Okay. It happened. Now what will we do to clean it up?” I allow her to be part of the process, take ownership of the mess. She knows that Mama is there to help her through it, but not to take over and do it for her.
I don’t claim to be any kind of parenting expert. In fact, I know that all of this is probably totally self-evident to some of you. Maybe it comes naturally to you in your parenting style. It does not come naturally to me. It is my nature to be a nurturer. I live to do things for other people. I love to be needed. I just need to remember that the best thing I can do for my kids, to show them how much I love them, is to finish my cereal. They’ll be okay. They’ve got this.