The other day a friend repeated a saying that got me thinking:“Never do for you kids what they can do for themselves.” To her, it sounded brutal, but I think it makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done.
One of the biggest hurdles for parents, and particularly moms, is the myth that we have to do, know, and be everything for our kids. We err on the side of doing too much for our kids because of the feeling that we aren’t doing enough. But doing too much for our kids isn’t doing them a favor; in fact, it prevents them from developing self-reliance, responsibility, and self-confidence.
My personal stumbling block is our family’s schedule. By the time we get home, do homework, eat, and get ready for bed, my goal is less about asking my kids to be independent and more about helping them get enough sleep.
But if I’m honest, there’s another reason I don’t make my kids do some things for themselves: it’s so much easier to do it myself. Instead of supervising, teaching, or arguing with my kids about a particular task, I’ll often just do it. I wait until the kids go to school or hit the sheets and then tackle my to-do list.
So my friend’s statement resonated with me. I decided I needed to come up with some ways to get my kids to take more responsibility — without sacrificing the feeling of being a good parent, my time, or our family’s schedule. Here are a few of my ideas:
I am going to allow my kids to make more of their own decisions about school-–everything from what they wear to how they do their homework. I’ll be there if they have questions and maintain high expectations, of course, but I’m going to let them take the lead. I’m going to let them make their own lunches, too. This is a task that I dread and the kids are picky about. (Even very young kids can make their own sandwiches, although you may need to help them get started.)
Our house offers many opportunities for my kids to pitch in. My first step was to insist that everyone clean up after themselves. No more picking up dirty socks or hanging up wet towels! I also asked them to get their own breakfast on days when there isn’t a time crunch, much to their surprise. Next, I am going to ask them to take turns helping with the dishes at night. It will be interesting to see how that goes over!
The easiest and most natural way to help our kids develop a sense of responsibility is to incorporate these lessons into day-to-day life. Send your child up to the restaurant counter to ask for extra napkins or a straw. Ask your child to plan a meal, help you find the ingredients at the grocery store, and cook (older kids can cook some or all of the meal themselves). Encourage older kids to help younger siblings with simple tasks, and to feed pets. Older kids can babysit, or do dog walking jobs in your neighborhood.
However you go about it, I urge you to look for ways to help your kids “do for themselves.” It’s the best way to help our kiddos grow into confident and independent adults!