Like any parent, I have goals for my children.
A few goals I have for my sons include:
- I want them to be able to lead. First of all I want them to be able to lead their future wives and children. I also want them to be able to be leaders at their job, in their church or anywhere else God asks them to lead.
- I want them to be able to follow. Many times in our lives we have to be able to follow others — good leaders are good followers.
- I want them to be confident and be prepared for for life once they’re out of high school. I want them to know how to cook for themselves, clean their living area, and wash their own clothes.
There are of course many other goals, but those are a few.
What’s my point though? My point is, at this very moment in Josiah’s 4-year-old life I am setting him up to reach those goals or fail. When you think of it that way it makes parenting even more scary than it already is, huh?
For example, the other day Josiah and I were working on school stuff. He was diligently working trying to sharpen his pencil. In my impatience and sense of urgency to get back to what we were doing I told him to give it to me that I’d do it for him.
He looked at me and said, “Mom, you have to let me learn how to do it!”
The other morning I was laying in bed and heard Josiah talking next to me. He was saying, “Mom, you have to give me a chance! Give me a chance!” I rolled over and looked at him sort of confused and he was apparently dreaming about me not letting him do stuff for himself. By the way, Jimmi and Josiah both talk in their sleep so this isn’t unusual at all.
A hard lesson I think all parents have to slowly learn is that we have to start letting go and letting them do things on their own in order for them to learn. This is important for all kids, but especially for boys. Why? Because boys grow up into men. God built men to have the internal desire to fix things, provide for their families — they feel self worth when they accomplish things. You know the cliche joke about men not wanting to ask for directions? Why do they not want to stop? Because they want to prove they can do it. Boys brains, although very underdeveloped, are the same.
As parents, when we step in and take the reins before they get the chance to give it their best shot, we’re telling them that they’re not good enough or skilled enough to do it and that we can do it better. Think about how you feel when you’re trying to do something and someone comes in and tries to take it from you because you’re not doing it quick enough or as good as they want it done. It feels awful. I hate it. So why am I doing it to my own kid?
Now, before too many people start to get excited, there are obviously situations where we cannot let our kids do something on their own because there are age-limits to some things and some responsibilities/privileges are age-appropriate.
One of Josiah’s responsibilities is cleaning the bathroom. By cleaning, I mean he has to pick up the clothes and the trash and sweep. That is age appropriate for him. As he gets older, he’ll get to do the other not-so-fun stuff in the bathroom like cleaning the mirrors and the toilet.
When Josiah helps me cook, I let him pour stuff and gather the ingredients and other supplies, but I won’t let him crack the eggs. These are examples of things that are age appropriate and things that are not.
However, me stepping in to finish sharpening his pencil is not because he can’t do it or he’s not old enough to do it, it’s because it’d be done faster and more accurately if I did it. That has nothing to do with his safety and well-being. That has everything to do with me being in control. One of Josiah’s other responsibilities is cleaning his room and folding/putting away his own clothes. I’ve shown him how to fold his clothes. He knows how they’re supposed to be folded, but it’s not going to be perfect and it’s not going to be done in ten minutes. By the time they end up in his drawer I have no idea whether they’re neatly folded or crammed in there. But, he’s slowly improving and he’s learning how to do it on his own.
Which is more important? His clothes being neatly folded and tucked away in the drawer or him learning how to take responsibility and how to fold his laundry? Not only is he learning valuable life skills (how many of you wish your husband knew how to put away his laundry?), he’s learning that I have confidence and trust him enough to do it on his own.
When I choose not to step in and take over, I’m also teaching Josiah another valuable lesson. I’m teaching him to ask for help. If I always step in before he gets frustrated or before he realizes he really can’t do it (because we all can’t do everything), he’s not learning how to humble himself and ask for help. He needs to come to the point where he knows that he has tried his best, but he is not capable of accomplishing the task at hand for whatever reason. He needs to be able to stop and realize and verbalize, “OK, I need help.”
So many adults struggle with this. I struggle with this. I don’t want to ask for help. I want to prove I can do it. But you know what, there are times when I can’t. There are times when I have to ask someone to help me. Not because I’m not good enough, but because I can’t be the best at everything.
By letting kids do things on their own you’re inviting messes into your house. You’re saying that you’re OK with the idea that it won’t always be done perfect or up to your standards. I can’t tell you how many times Josiah has spilled something because he did it on his own or how many times he’s messed something up when trying to do it.
What is it that Mrs. Frizzle says? “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.” Mistakes will be made. Messes will be made. I am not going to come unglued over spilled milk (literally and figuratively) or wrinkled pants. Josiah will eventually be able to wash, dry, fold, and put away his own clothes and it be done correctly, but until then I have to be patient and remember that in the end it will pay off.