Parenting for Independence
Whilst on holiday, tragedy struck the young girl next door… her mother died. It was unexpected. She had been unwell and the hospital wanted to do an urgent scan and had scheduled it for the following week. She died before that day. The young girl, I’ll call her Claire, is 10 years old and an only child. She is my daughter’s holiday play friend. We often holiday in the same spot and the girls have been holiday ‘mates’ for many years.
What struck me about this horrible tragedy was the lack of independence Claire has. Living only a few doors from the school gates, her Mum has walked her to and from school every day. Every single day of her 5 years of school. It really got me thinking. I know far too many parents who do everything for their children. I know many children who do not know how to do simple tasks.
Now I’m not suggesting parents plan for an early departure. We however do have a responsibility to ensure we assist our children to develop into independent citizens and are ready to leave home when the time is right. I saw a quote once that said; “When your children don’t need you anymore, you have done a great job.” There will always be times we need or want our parents for support, guidance or companionship and I believe the quote is about independence. About being able to do everyday tasks, at age appropriate stages, on their own.
It starts early with small steps – having children help you with the daily tasks. Tasks might take longer, they may even mess it up and this is all part of the very important learning process.
If your children are older, it is not too late. Chat about the importance of working together as a family, sharing the load, preparing for adulthood.
Make it fun. Wear cleaning aprons and scarves if it helps. Put on some fun music. Use a timer and small incentive if needed. My teens still love the ice cream challenge! They have 60 mins to clean their rooms (photographs of what their tidy room looks like are on the inside of their wardrobe doors – including under the bed and the wardrobe floor.) If completed to my satisfaction we go out and buy an ice cream each.
As a parent, you may need to let go of the perfectionist – they will make mistakes. They will not do it to your level of skill – they are still learning. Your child did not get up and walk perfectly the first time either. It took encouraging words, affirmations, praise and a helping hand for them to learn to walk. The same is true of all learning and especially if being able to complete tasks independently is a goal. It requires you, as the parent, to be patient, flexible, nurturing, encouraging and forgiving.
It may require you to slow down, take more time. It is easy in our hurried busy world to think it is quicker and easier to do yourself. If so what do your children learn?
On the right is a chart of age appropriate jobs. Start slow and ensure your child has mastered each one before you add the next. Some will take longer than others. Be kind and teach them how to do the job correctly. Sweeping the front step by moving the dirt from one side to the other is not OK. It means removing the dirt. They may not stack the dishwasher exactly as you like it, breathe, walk away and leave it – the dishes will still get clean. (If not you now have a learning point for next time.)
Write out the instructions and attach nearby. I have done this for the washing machine – it saves the huffing and puffing of, “I don’t know how to do it!”
In our home, if the children want special snacks in their lunch, they have to make them. Last night both were in the kitchen making cupcakes! Our 16 year old son is an expert banana cake maker.
The fruits of your efforts will pay off. Recently my husband and I realised neither of us would be home to cook dinner and we simply rang the children and asked them to cook the meal. It was on the table when we got home. A healthy, hot meal. It is all about helping out and ensuring they can live independently one day.
As I am writing this, I called out to my son to please empty the dishwasher and I’ll stack it. He jumped up and did it immediately – not because he is perfect – because he has learned if he gets on with it quickly, he can go back to doing what he really wants. A great life lesson.
Praise all efforts and be sure to have your child overhear you telling someone how helpful and independent they are becoming. When children ‘eavesdrop’ on a compliment, the positive vibes are felt deeper within their self.
Still not sure? Maybe this statistic will help scare some into action – the average age of a child leaving home is 27… yes twenty seven! Are you still going to be doing their laundry, cleaning up their messes, cooking their food at 27?
Still not convinced? This is one of my favourite graphics!