Parenting Thoughts: Kids are Capable

Kids have been home all summer, and that means that nagging them to do the most basic of tasks is at an all-time high. “Load your dishes in the dishwasher,” is met with whiney protests of “Why!!!!?” Well Kid, so many reasons- I’m tired of cleaning up after you, I have 10,000 other things that need to get done, I’m not your maid….Unfortunately, they are unmoved by any of this reasoning which, frankly, is about me. Time to take it to a new level with a positive and very true spin that focuses on them: “Because you are capable and I believe in you.”

Recently I tried it out when the youngest complained, “Why do I have to pack my own lunch? None of my friends have to!” (Note to those who have not yet hit this stage of parenting: all of the other kids have it easier than your kids and never have to do anything they don’t want to. Unless, of course, you ask their parents.) I told her, “I know you’re capable of doing it. The other parents must think their kids can’t do anything without help, but I know you can. I bet your friends don’t like being treated like babies.” Sure, that last part may have been a little manipulative on my part, but she seemed to appreciate that much more than any other reason I had ever given her in the past. The lunch was promptly packed.

“Little Chef” cleans up after making ranch dressing from scratch, which included a bike ride with her brother to the grocery store for a missing ingredient.

“Little Chef” cleans up after making ranch dressing from scratch, which included a bike ride with her brother to the grocery store for a missing ingredient.

While of course I want (need!) my kids to pitch in around the house, this is not just a ploy to get them to do those simple household tasks so that I don’t have to. This is about raising capable, confident adults. As they get older, the tasks they are presented with may be increasingly challenging, but they have the emotional tools to tackle them since they have had so much practice. Each new challenge my kids have been left to handle on their own, they have risen to the occasion. It may not be perfect, they often make mistakes along the way, but each time they learn something new and are able to apply it to the next situation.

I have been met with criticism for expecting my oldest to pay for college herself. It’s a difficult task, but it is certainly not impossible. I would not give my intelligent, independent daughter the opportunity if I did not think she could handle it. She may find herself having to choose work over fun, or put purchases that are not absolutely necessary on hold. Lacking the funds to cover tuition may even mean she misses a semester. I know that no matter what happens, she will prevail in the end with immeasurable life skills- the kind that aren’t found in the academic part of college.

On a perhaps selfish note, I want a profound connection to my daughter that comes from seeing her for who she is and doing my best to meet her needs. This one came into the world fiercely independent. (This was the kid who had a tantrum at age two because I “never let her drive the car” and at age three insisted I drop her off a block away from preschool.) For the record, my husband and I both disagree with her choice to go straight to a four-year college. However, it’s more important to us that she totally own her college experience- literally and figuratively. I want her to know how much we respect her ability and autonomy to make her own life choices. I never want my daughter to look back on her life and feel like her parents didn’t have confidence in her ability to forge her own path on the way to conquering her dreams.

In an era of helicopter parenting, I know I’m a minority. Doing everything for my kids may feel easier to them (and sometimes even me) in the moment, or make me feel like I have control over the outcome of their actions. But at what cost? Our job as parents is not to raise kids, it’s to raise competent adults. Kids who are not given age-appropriate opportunities to take risks and fail, don’t learn life skills critical for adult success. And frankly, the joy I feel in knowing what my kids have accomplished with my only assistance being that of giving them space to do things on their own, is incredibly satisfying! Kids are so capable! Why would anyone want to miss out on witnessing what their child can accomplish all on their own? Yes, it’s a little scary to push your baby bird out of the nest, but it’s an act of profound love that allows them to soar!