I have been doing the ‘doing’ for my children for so long, they can’t see their own capacity and capability to be able to ‘do’. I’ve read the obligatory parenting books, completed the parenting courses, and developed the chore charts complete with often sought after rewards.
I was there every step of the way for their first steps, first words and to use the toilet on their own. These milestones were celebrated when they happened.
But somehow I missed the part on letting my kids be the doers and allowing myself to be the guider.
Somehow I have let myself be the doer in our family.
Somehow I said to myself being the doer was OK. By being a doer for longer than necessary I think I’ve missed some of my children’s self-doer development milestones.
I may even have compromised my own success by being the family doer.
Maybe I’ve done too much for my children?
My children are not lazy or born idle.
From their point of view it must be difficult to do much when I’m running around doing everything for them. In loving them unreservedly I’ve done more for them than I ought, and taken away the opportunities for them to learn, and make mistakes, and for me to have a break.
I have nurtured, provided for and protected my children – just doing what I consider a mother should do.
I made their lunches so they ate nutritious food.
I picked up the towels off the bathroom floor so the bathroom stayed clean.
I picked up the laundry off my son’s floor (only a foot away from his laundry basket) so his room was tidy.
I re-made beds from the discarded pile of blankets on the floor.
I delivered cups of water when the lights were supposed to be out.
I delivered meals to the table two and three times over.
I could go on…
Learning about the power of empowerment
Somewhere along the way I taught my children they’re not competent and I will always be here to pick up for them.
And, in the process I have forgotten about me.
In my busyness and focus on being the doer, my children’s abilities have outgrown my expectations. In fact, my children have been capable of doing many of the things I’ve been doing for them for years. So now I’m learning to expect more from them. I’m trying to do less and give myself a much needed break to be me.
This afternoon I expected more. I asked my teenage son to hang out the washing. He bounded down the stairs spouting claims of child labour and a fear he could quite possibly die from hanging out washing. I assured him he wouldn’t. He had my word.
Undeterred, in the face of a seemingly bottomless washing basket, the latent lawyer in him unleashed his most powerful argument yet. He didn’t know any other kid who at the beginning of school holidays had to come home and do ‘work’.
I told him he now knew at least one.
And what did I notice after he had finished? I noticed the washing my son hung out didn’t hang on the line as if it had been hurled across the lawn in protest, as it had done in the past. Instead each item of clothing was hung neatly and uncurled, primed for optimal drying, almost as if I had hung them myself.
I certainly didn’t expect perfection (it’s only washing after all) but I did expect participation. I was surprised, and a little proud, he had done what I had asked and had done it well.
My younger son has his own set of unique competencies.
Last week I asked him to help with the dishes. He told me how he hated doing dishes. I told him I hated them more. In frustration he scattered the cutlery unceremoniously in the drawer. I was on to him.
Not only was he competent but his self preservation was well developed. I assured him reorganising the disordered cutlery drawer was a no-brainer and he could also be rest assured soup bowls topping plates and anchored by casserole dishes would not offend me.
I’m glad he is helping. I thanked him as he lobbed the tea towel on the bench. I really appreciate it I told him.
So what did I learn?
I learnt there will be gripes over dishes but they’ll be our shared gripes over an otherwise thankless task. We spent time together no matter how menial and there was not a screen in sight. Creativity I’ve discovered, is a special tool for a mother; one with the potential to bring a little joy to a number of thankless tasks.
So I pushed the boundaries and asked for my son to tidy his room.
Dishes and a tidy room all in one week, change is a-happening.
And how creative I was too.
Stun me with your budding photography skills with a before and after photo of your bedroom. Make it HD, add filters – knock yourself out.
In less than ten minutes he returned with concrete evidence in hand. I was impressed. The wreck of the Hesperus could indeed be returned to its former glory – in ten minutes no less.
So what did I learn?
I learnt my son could take great photos of a less than scenic room, and take pride in his accomplishment no matter how small. There may be tears shed over baskets of washing and whispers of unpaid labour. But there are golden moments to be shared.
I don’t want my children to become self sufficient because they are ‘old enough’. I want my children to do more for themselves because they are ‘capable’. It’s actually okay for my children to do the dishes, hang their own laundry and God-forbid sweep up their clothes from the floor.
They will survive.
And I learnt that it’s OK for me to take a step back and have a well-deserved break. The inevitable questions, “where are my X, Y and Z?” will still be asked (roughly translated this reads – where are my shoes, socks, homework, clean underwear, school bag and togs I need to walk out the door with in precisely 10 minutes).
And perhaps I will be brave enough to say they have to sort it.
I’m their mother, their friend and their fiercest advocate. But I am not here to serve them. I am their mother.
A mother who is also a human being, one who gets tired too and needs them to contribute to this team of ours. This is not a housework story, or child labour as my teenager so aptly puts it. These are my children’s small steps to self sufficiency, resilience and a sure-fire confidence in their own abilities.
The lessons they learn within these walls will sustain them when the walls no longer hold them. This is where empathy for others begins.
So I’m growing and learning with the children I have. I’m the first woman in their lives, it’s an honour that comes with mighty responsibilities you know!
Do you think you might have done too much for your children?