The Do-it-Yourself Project

Sometimes I wonder if my kids wish I had never learned to read.  I am constantly reading books about parenting and ways to improve our family life.  I then go into lengthy lectures about how best to apply the principles I’ve learned or, at least to start a conversation.  Mostly I get a ‘that’s nice, Mom,’ from my oldest and my youngest is often perplexed.  “Mom, I don’t even remember what you just said.  I wasn’t really paying attention.”  I do appreciate the honesty.

After a discussion I had with my sister a few weeks ago about whether or not to give my youngest free-rein on his academic work, she sent an email about the book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success” by Julie Lythcott-Haims.  Essentially, Lythcott-Haims, a former dean of freshman at Stanford, says that as parents we need to focus less on external achievements and goals and instead, foster independence in our kids so that they may find their own way.  She encourages parents to live their own lives and most importantly, make sure kids have the skills to live theirs.  Even though a lot of what she says is practical, she admits it is a lot harder to put into practice with all the pressure and expectations society has on what success as a parent means.  Maybe we don’t need to radically overhaul our kids’ lives overnight, but at least we need to be open to questioning where they are right now.  

I have to admit, after a quick evaluation of my parenting, I knew that I am not letting my kids do enough for themselves.  Lythcott-Haims’ chapter, ‘Teach Life Skills’, sent a panic deep and icy into my heart.  On some level, I’ve always known they could be doing more for themselves, but isn’t it easier to do it ourselves?  I decided to not use our hectic schedule as an excuse any longer.  I was going to make my kids do more independently and stick to my guns.

I mostly chose simple things like consistently loading the dishwasher or putting away their laundry.  They are 8 and 11 so I am trying to be realistic but still push them a bit.  I sent them into the sandwich shop to order and pay by themselves.  I have made them completely responsible for their homework, getting organized and packing themselves up each day.  Some of these things have gone well, some have been a little bumpy.  Each day I try to think of ways to get them involved in caring for the house and each other.  It isn’t always easy or convenient, but I can see there are definite rewards.  My 11-year-old especially is loving the added responsibility.  My 8-year-old initially was less enthused, but now as he is mastering more and more tasks, I can see his confidence growing. 

The goal isn’t to have these tasks done perfectly.  It is about giving our children a sense of active participation in the outcome of their lives.  If they learn early and often that what they do has a meaningful impact on their environment, themselves and others, this will help build their confidence and get them ready for an independent life.  

Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent

Lythcott-Haims, J.  How to Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kids for Success (first edition).  2015 New York, N.Y.  Henry Holt and Company.