Let me clue you in on a typical Monday morning in our house.
Deflector is looking for a clean school shirt. He cannot find one. I am not at all surprised; he didn’t put any in the laundry to be washed.
The Actor is wearing a summer uniform, without a jumper, and it is 7 degrees outside.
Captain Clumsy is, as usual, taking his time with getting ready. With 5 minutes to go before we walk out the door he still has to put his shoes on, pack his lunch box and find his homework book.
Princess is struggling with making her sandwich. Her fat little 5-year-old hands are waving the butter knife over the bread in a random mess. She finally gets it made and then cuts it into a masterpiece that only Edward Scissorhands could re-create.
So, do I whip out a clean shirt from my secret stash for Deflector?
Do I pull rank and force The Actor to wear something warmer?
Do I find CC’s homework and pack it in his school bag?
Do I remake Princess’ massacred sandwich?
No, No, No and No.
Yes I will be perceived as a bad mother. Oh how the school yard gossips will relish the fact that there is a dirty shirt, a lack of warm jumper, no homework to hand in, and a less than perfect lunch, among my brood.
“Well it’s just inconceivable. How can any decent mother send her children to school like that? She should be ashamed”
The horror! How could I possibly live with myself for allowing my children to live through these atrocities?
Yes I feel bad for my babies. Yes I want to protect them and fix it for them and prevent any discomfort they might experience. As a mother I want to wrap them all in a little bubble and make everything in their lives easy and perfect.
But, more than that, I want to teach them independence, organization, self-reliance and trust in their own ability.
I want Deflector to learn that it is HIS responsibility to put his laundry out to be washed. When he is all grown up, no-one will go picking up after him, literally or figuratively. If he doesn’t meet a deadline, too bad. How does he learn to be responsible for himself if I don’t give him the chance?
How does Actor feel any courage to make decisions for himself if I don’t let him make decisions about his own body? If I force him to wear a jumper when he is not cold, I am teaching him that he cannot trust himself. (You catch a cold from germs people, not from being cold)
How does CC experience the consequences of failing to be organized if I pack his homework in his bag and prevent those consequences from occurring?
How does Princess begin to feel capable, independent and trust in her own ability if I take her efforts and replace them with my ‘right’ ones? Or worse, if I don’t even allow her to make an effort at all?
When we do these things for our children, when we don’t require more from them, when we don’t ask them to do what they are capable of, we are instilling dependence. We are teaching them that we do not trust them to get it right. Sure, we might feel a little better about quieting the voice in our head that makes us feel guilty. We might even prevent the school yard gossips from whispering. But in doing so we are also teaching our children that they are incapable. We send the message that we don’t believe in them.
I know of school age children whose mothers pack their lunches, put the toothpaste on their toothbrush (at 11 years old!), turn the shower on (for heaven’s sake), assist them in getting dressed (pffft), and ‘help’ with the homework to ensure it is ‘right’. I worry about what these kids will feel when they are required to do something for themselves. What is going to happen at school camp when they have to put the toothpaste on their own toothbrush? Or run their own shower? Or, God forbid, put their own damn pants on?
When we are parents of small children, we don’t like to think about the fact that one day they will be all grown up. Let me tell you, the time is moving so fast that in a few more blinks I will be an Empty Nester. I could try to deny it; I could try to slow time down by keeping them dependant forever. I could feed my own sense of self-worth with all the things that they ‘need’ me for. And I would only be cheating my children. I would be denying them their life.
One day your gorgeous little 5-year-old will be 19 and if you don’t prepare them for the world now, it will be too late then.
Let your babies fly. Show them how it’s done, and then…
Teach them that it’s OK to fall.
Without the freedom to risk a few failures there can be no success. We need to let go of the fear and allow our children to experience natural consequences. Let then make mistakes in a healthy and supportive environment.
Those school yard gossips can whisper now, but in a few short years when they have 25-year-old children sitting on the couch waiting for Mum to make their dinner, my brood will be independent, self-assured, capable young adults.
And Hubby and I will be sipping Champagne, in the South of France, congratulating each other on a job well done.