Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Letting them do stuff.

I've found that, nine times out of ten, I really underestimate my kids' ability to perform a "grown up" task. They ask on a regular basis, believe it or not, to do things like make breakfast, wash the dishes, process laundry, chop the veggies, etc. My recent bout of morning sickness made me realize that they were capable of successfully doing much more than I'd initially guessed. While I was sick on the couch, my kids started offering to do things, and I thought, "What can it hurt? Sure. Go for it. I'll clean the mess later."

What I was sheepish and happily surprised to find, though, was that they not only did the things they offered, they did a pretty fracking good job, too! Even more importantly, I saw them taking a healthy amount of personal pride and confidence away from being able to do a job totally, from volunteering (something I don't push) to finish. As well they should. Rock on, little people!

Albeit, there was sometimes a learning curve, but they caught on to new skills quickly, and now are generally happier when doing a reasonable amount of help. (Is this really surprising? In other cultures, kids prepare meals, build fires, scale fish, weave baskets and sheer sheep at a really young age, with plenty of playtime left in the day. ) People like to feel capable.

I've started to understand that trusting them with a "big" task (with the understanding that they'll need pointers from time to time) says, "I see you as capable. You're smart, and you can do things, and I'm happy to trust you with them! Come be part of my world!"

This year, I've discovered that my kids (6.5, 5 and 2.5) can: process/fold/put away their own laundry, cook simple meals like homemade waffles or pan-fried potatoes, prep veggies for me, run the vacuum, make phone calls, order their own food at restaurants, put away all the silverware, wash pots and pans, build campfires, sweep the porch, load the grocery cart, get themselves into the car without help, run into our local HFS for one item solo and pick and pay for their own produce (money provided by mom and dad, of course) at the farmer's market for cooking projects. Naomi made french toast with minimal supervision this morning. I was seriously amazed, and their confidence level and calm has increased in a huge way. Kids are people. They're made to do things, just like adults. We all feel good when we feel competent and capable. It seems like such a no-brainer, but in such a structured toy/play culture, it's easy for me to forget.

Initially, sure, it makes a bit of a mess. However, the gargantuan mess making phase doesn't last forever. After the first attempts, they have figured out how to streamline their own process, and they actually end up being able to *do* more for themselves.

I'm starting to realize that I've been making this parenting gig way harder than it really needs to be by keeping my kids dependent on me. When I step back and allow them to try things, eventually, the payoff is that I don't have to kill myself with stress. Literally. On a similar note, I refuse to have toys, games or activities in the house that require me to suffer through doing the majority of the work share of the "play" for them (but that's a different rabbit trail).

I have to be honest: I'm sighing blissfully in relief. Of course, the house is going to be a little messier, and not everything will be photo-worthy, but I'm also not breaking my head to do things one person was never created to do. Not only does stunting their independence do them no favors, it's literally been killing ME. Everyone's happier. And there's less whining. And less yelling (from me, mostly). I have time to sit down and read or rest, and really...adults, like children, should. All humans benefit from both work and rest. Unbalance results in frustration for everyone.

There's always a little risk involved. My 7yo has experienced a couple of minor burns (most adults are familiar with them, because we get them from time to time) from cooking in a skillet, despite her effort to be careful. It's how humans learn. So, she's also learned how to run her finger under cold water and break off some aloe and rub it on. She's old enough to learn from it quickly, take precautions, and wants to go back to whatever she was doing, after a little care from a parent.

Today,against my desire to protect her from any and all sadness and death, she's trying to rescue a wounded bird she found in the yard. :P I'm sitting here cringing, hoping it won't die, and knowing it probably will. But, she's got it in a grass-lined box, pulled out the bird book and discovered it's a House Wren, and looked through her bird info cards and figured out it likes spiders and moths. So, she's collecting spiders outside and live moths, and tossing them in the box, "just in case it lives and gets hungry". I'm watching my kid grow up, just a little bit, right in front of my eyes. And it's fantastic. Yes, the bird probably has mites. Yes, she's handling spiders. Yes, she might see something die. That's a real part of life.

She's doing something big, and, despite my control-freak tendencies, I'm going to let her. That's where she'll find the confidence in adulthood to know she's capable, and to have a life and experience of her own, apart from mine. That spells love in a big way to *her* , even if it doesn't feel all warm and fuzzy to me. Letting go requires no more than a deep breath, a smile at the future, and, nothing.

little update: the wren recovered, and flew away into a tree! hurrah! :D I'm a sucker for happy endings.