I have often wondered what other parents think when they see me interacting with my children. Point #1 – I don’t use a stroller if possible, my kids walk on their own two feet, Point #2 – My older kids pack their own backpacks, and carry their own backpacks to school, Point #3 – I make my kids do chores and I don’t pay them for it, Point #4 – I don’t entertain my kids for all hours of the day, its okay to let them play by themselves, and finally Point #5 – I let my kids cry.
I will admit that I come across as a lazy mom, but here’s the thing, my kids are much better off because of it! Now don’t get me wrong, I love my children, I make birthday treats for school, I put little notes in lunch boxes, I volunteer in the classroom, I read to my children every night, we laugh and play together, etc. Now here’s the kicker – I don’t help my kids when they don’t need my help. From my baby learning to drink out of a cup, to my preschooler learning to tie his shoes, to my 3rd grader remembering to study for his test. I let them do it without constant help from me. Baby won’t learn to drink if I keep holding the cup for him or giving him a spill proof top, and toddler will not learn to tie his shoes if I am always putting his shoes on for him (although I have been known to buy velcro shoes). My point is this, as parents we need to learn to let go in order to let our kids learn, grow and strengthen.
At my daughters Kindergarten Open House this past Fall, her wonderful teacher told the most amazing story comparing caterpillars and children. If you watch a caterpillar trying to break free of the cocoon, it looks like it is struggling, it looks like it needs help, and it is our instinct to want to help. However, the process of struggling to break free of the cocoon strengthens the butterfly’s wings so that when it finally breaks through, it is strong enough to fly.
We went through a rough few weeks where my daughter did not want to go to school because she said she would miss me. As much as I loved hearing her say that, I still had to send her to school. We would pull up to the school and she would refuse to get out of the car until I climbed into the back and pulled her out. She would cry and resist, but I kept telling her she could do it. I walked her to the line, gave her a kiss, and walked back to the car. I didn’t linger to make sure she was okay, I didn’t make it harder for her, by walking her into the class and then playing with her in the classroom, only dragging out the good-bye process. I knew she could do it and she did it. When it was time to pick her up, she gave me a hug and was completely fine. I didn’t dwell on the issues of the morning, because she had proved to herself that she could do it, deep down, she knew she did it. Of course this doesn’t mean it didn’t happen again, or that it will not happen in the future, but each time she struggles with something and overcomes, she is empowering herself.
There is only so much cheerleading we can do for our kids before they stop believing our cheers, making it more important for them to become their own cheerleaders sometimes. Our children struggle with things everyday, and if we jump in to the rescue we are hindering them from growing. I am not saying that we have to turn into heartless beings, but its okay for a child to get frustrated sometimes and then use that as fuel to persevere and triumph. We have all seen the proud looks on our babies faces when they sit up for the first time or take those first steps. We need to continue to let our children experience those feelings as they grow and are faced with more difficult challenges such as school, friends, sports, etc. Not only will this boost their self-esteem, but in my opinion helps to create a stronger bond between Mother and Child. Mom’s refusal to step in and solve a child’s problem shows the child that they have a loving parent who trusts them and has confidence in their abilities.
There are many ways we can help to teach our children independence, and each age and stage offers different opportunities. We have all been there – the dreaded “Tummy Time”, we are told of the importance of putting our babies on their tummies to strengthen their heads and necks, but most babies hate it and cry. As moms we don’t like to see our precious baby cry, but here is a first major struggle. They cry because they don’t like lying on their face, and don’t have the strength to push up, but with practice they develop the muscles and learn to enjoy tummy time. Same goes for sitting, crawling, standing, and walking. Given the opportunity, a baby will learn all of these things by practicing, falling, and trying again. Another big struggle for babies (and moms) is sleep. It does not matter what article you read about what new sleep method or study, all babies need to sleep, and all babies can learn to fall asleep on their own if parents provide them with the opportunity to do so. Each child is different and unique in their sleep habits, but all babies and children (and moms) will benefit greatly when they become an independent sleeper.
Toddlers and preschoolers offer up even more opportunities for overcoming obstacles. Toddlers are learning to move through their environment physically and socially. For some toddlers, communication might be a struggle, and let me tell you, a toddler who can not express his needs and wants verbally is a very frustrated toddler. However, the one thing that frustrates them more, is when mom tries to guess what they are saying (learned from experience). I would try to put words in his mouth rather than taking a step back and listening to him and watching him for his nonverbal cues. It took a few months, but once we really started understanding each other, his whole demeanor changed for the better. Other toddlers are exploring their world through large motor skills. Running, helping to get themselves dressed, playing on the playground and mastering the concept of going UP the stairs and DOWN the slide, toddlers are bundles of endless energy. Letting them practice all of these newfound skills with mom on the sideline (a few feet away) helps them to become self-sufficient in their own little way. For preschoolers, getting dressed by themselves, helping with chores around the house, and playing on their own all help foster independence. Since I work from home, we have an hour long quiet time rule in our house (even for the older kids), so that I can get some work done. The kids are in their room playing quietly by themselves. They are not allowed to play with each other, as they would end up getting too loud and the baby is sleeping, so they need to fill an hours time by themselves. I was actually very impressed by how well they did. Kids are very creative when you allow them to be. Without video games and TV they opened books, they did puzzles, they did art, and usually when I go up to get them, they want to continue whatever they were doing.
Finally, for older kids, and by older I mean school age since that is all my experience goes up to thus far, I believe the biggest struggles are social and academic. We try to protect our children from getting hurt all the time, whether it be from falling down and scraping a knee or from a friend saying something hurtful. No mom wants to see their child cry, or be embarrassed. I was picking my son up from school one day and he was playing basketball with his friends. One child was not playing fair and was being pretty mean to my son. Just as I was contemplating going over and saying something, my son amazed me and did something I never expected. No, he didn’t slug the kid, he walked away. He simply said “See you guys tomorrow” picked up his backpack and walked over to me. The basketball game fizzled out as the other boys decided they would rather leave too. Then something even more more dumbfounding happened. The kid who had been picking on my son, came over and said “good-bye, see you tomorrow” and they shook hands or did a fist bump or whatever 3rd grade boys do. And that was that. Next day they were all playing together as a team. At some point every child is picked on, but if we as moms don’t allow our children to try to handle it on their own, they will never learn those important social life lessons.
Of course, there will be times when parental intervention is necessary for the safety of the child, but whenever possible try to hold off on swooping in and saving the day, your children will be much better because of it. And if it helps to think of yourself as a lazy parent, to get into the lazy frame of mind, go for it! Your children will one day thank you for being so lazy, and helping them to become such wonderfully independent and confident adults.