I think one of the most exhausting things about parenting young children is their constant dependence on you for everything. From food, to baths, to helping them learn how to sleep, to tying their shoes, to wiping their own bums, to putting on their clothes, etc. etc. – When I say everything, that means everything. In case you were wondering.
I’m not the best at teaching my kids how to be more independent. It seems like there are two types of parents. The ones that are like, “My 6 year old made us chicken pot pie for dinner. From scratch.” And, you think, “That can’t be for real.” But, then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum. The mom that says, “I get my son dressed while he is laying in bed still asleep. That way when he actually has to get up, then I don’t have to fight the battle of dressing him for school.” That kid must believe in magic! Can you imagine? Go to sleep with your PJ’s on, wake up full clothed. Awesome. No effort needed.
I’m somewhere in between. I try. I really do. But, let’s face it. It’s HARD work to teach your kids independence. Cleaning their room is a prime example. But, what about just enabling your kids to do simpler things like get a drink of water on their own? It takes patience. Lots of it.
Saturday, I got a glimpse into the awesomeness that will be when they can actually do stuff. My daughter got up from the table and filled up her own water cup while we were at a restaurant. I looked at my husband and said, “That’s amazing!” Because when you are out to eat with three little ones, something so small as getting up from the table to hydrate oneself seems like an incredible accomplishment.
So, Sunday, we unintentionally tested the boundaries. You know the days. Neither one of us wanted to get up. Usually, I’m the one that gets up, but this time, I didn’t want to get out of bed either. The kids were all piled on our bed watching TV. We were enjoying it until the 4-year-old started with the I’m hungry-s. I seriously turned to my husband and said, “1-2-3. Not it!” Yep. I’m an adult.
Unfortunately, it did not work like it used to on the playground. Instead, he looked at me and said, “Oh, I thought at the count of three you were going to get up.” Well played, Jerk. I mean, well played love of my life. So, there’s another thing that sucks about getting older. 1-2-3- Not it! doesn’t work anymore.
So, as a last resort, we said to our daughter, “Do you want to make the boys breakfast!?” in the most excited way possible so she would think making breakfast for her little brothers was like getting a pony for Christmas. She fell for it. Before, I knew it, she was getting out the stool, and making them breakfast. Granted, it was just eggo waffles. And, the four year old did ask if she had to take them out of the package before cooking them to obviously settle some kind of argument that was going on. But, she did it. She successfully cooked two waffles without burning our house down. And, I got this glimpse into a life that lies ahead of children that can fend for themselves a bit.
Honestly, it feels so hard sometimes to just let go. It’s like watching them tie their shoe for the first time right as you need to walk out the door and are running late. You stare. You shift your weight. You hold your tongue. You bite it so you don’t accidentally blurt out what is going on in your head. Which is usually something like, “Let me just do it. You aren’t fast enough!” and you wait some more. You try to be patient. You glance at the clock. You go back to get something you forgot. You come back and they are just rounding out the second bunny ear and you want to scream. But, you don’t. Because you love your child and don’t want to be tying her shoes when she goes off to college. And, finally she gets it and you let out a sigh. You’re thinking: finally! But instead, you offer a hug and say, “I’m so proud of you!”
And, that’s just tying the shoes. There are like a billion other little things they have to learn too.
But, one day, you wake up and suddenly, they want to do it and here’s the kicker–they can do it. It’s different than the almost two year old “helper” though, who wants to unload the dishwasher to show his independence and with stealth like moves almost accidentally stabs himself every single time because he instinctively gets to the knives faster than you can. Or, the almost two year old that insists on vacuuming all by himself. Or the almost two year old who fixed his own hair this weekend with a giant glob of axe hair gel minutes before you were walking out the door to go to church. I’m not talking about anyone in particular.
Yeah, that’s a different kind of independence. One that is equally as hard on your patience. And, I’m simultaneously in both stages right now. And, then there’s the in betweener kid who is a little of both stages. He want to do stuff that is borderline life threatening, and he wants to be a baby at the same time.
But, I do know it will all be worth it. One day, they will be able to make a sandwich when they say, I’m hungry. One day they will be able to cook dinner. One day they will help fold the laundry in a way that actually looks folded. One day…their independence will get here. My husband got the four-year-old his own screwdrivers recently, for example. And, now he changes the batteries in his own toys. It’s pretty awesome. And, one day we will finally be able to have a sigh of relief and we will probably think, “How did I get this amazing kid?” and forget that we had a little something to do with it too.
But, for now, I’m doing my best. I give a little leniency when I can. And, try to move faster than the almost two-year-old. And, help the four-year-old understand he isn’t allowed to touch the toaster even though big sister can. It’s all a balancing act. Somewhere between dangerous and amazing. And, we’ll get there. Eventually.
How do you help your kids gain independence? What’s worked? What hasn’t?