Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Independence Day | Raising Strong Capable Children

Our children are capable.  They are strong and smart and resourceful.  Our children forget this sometimes. 

About three years ago, after days of "Mommy, can you do this? Open this? Get this? Help with this?" - I realized that I was doing just that.  I was feeding their dependence happily, without thought.  When beckoned, I would stop what I was doing, go over to where they were and do whatever it was that was needed.  Mindlessly.  However, as so many brilliant people have written about recently, this was not helping them.  In fact, this was hindering them. 

By catering to them, cleaning up after them, feeding them (figuratively, of course), I was handicapping them.  I was not offering opportunities for them to build their own confidence.  I was not giving them a chance to learn and grow.  For MY convenience, MY sense of duty, or MY impatience or shortness of time, I was actually hurting THEIR long term growth.  Even preventing them from learning. 

Not being the 'Let’s-gradually-teach-them-to-do-things-on-their-own' kind of mom, we declared an Independence Day! 

Our two daughters were ages 4 and 6 when we tried our first Independence Day.  It was a weekend day so there were no homework or bedtime issues.  Rules included, "If you can do it yourself, you can do it."  The same general house rules remained intact; respect others, clean up after yourself, only approved movies/TV/games allowed, etc.  The internet was still monitored but you can watch or play all you want.  Otherwise, you don’t have to ask.  Your time is your own.  You can eat whatever you want, if you can do it yourself.  Maybe this was how others lived their lives every day but for us it was an experiment and it was awesome. 

There was an ice cream lunch followed by crackers and cheese for snack, all prepared by them.  They quickly learned they got farther working together.  There were periods of playing together and time spent alone.  They read, watched TV, made crazy concoctions in the kitchen and ate them (well, some of them).  If they wanted to go somewhere, they could walk with one parent nearby but they were happy to be in and around our house. 

The interesting thing was they were actually kind of nervous at first.  Unsure what would happen if the overlords, ‘Mommy and Daddy’, were to let go of the reigns.  Then after an hour or so, they were very excited and wanted to be sure to preserve the "Independence Day" option for the future.  They wanted every weekend to be Independence Day/Weekend.  They figured out quickly that if they were being responsible by cleaning up after themselves and respecting the general house rules, we were more likely to say yes, so I just let it all happen.  They got bored watching TV so they would move on to Legos or play with something else.  I still made meals and they would eat what they wanted when they wanted.     

It was actually very educational for all of us.  They self-regulated.  They did not eat every piece of candy in the house.  They did not really binge on anything or make themselves sick.  They did not choose vegetables over other foods but that wasn’t a surprise.  The biggest surprise for me was that there were very few disagreements between the two girls.  They usually got along okay but there were spats and general annoyances between them often enough.  I started to wonder if our influence was a stressor to their relationship in some way.  Did my expectations feed their rivalry or create a need for approval somehow?  I understand that sibling rivalry is natural but I have always wanted them to be close.  This experiment has generated a new way for me to think of them and their bond. 

I make a considerable effort not to compare my children but were my expectations for one influencing the other?  Because Stori (my younger daughter) likes to clean and organize, did that mean that Lore (my older daughter), who strongly disliked it, felt lesser because her sister would so easily jump in and work with me on household chores?  Could this be the resentment that I sometimes felt from Lore toward Stori but didn’t quite understand clearly? 

These observations and questions have changed the way I think of tasks in our house.  It has also changed the way we divvy up tasks.  

Instead of dictating a to-do list for each girl, I make a list and let the girls pick what they will do.  Sometimes I just ask what they will do to contribute to our house maintenance this weekend and let them think about it and volunteer.  They don’t feel like my expectations are the same between them or argue over who does what nearly as much now.  It doesn’t always work but it really ends better than the former top-down way of going about it.  They have more ownership over both the household tasks and taking care of themselves.  This is a beautiful thing. 

In the last three years, we have had at least eight successful Independence Days.  These special events break up life up a bit.  They remind Lore and Stori (and us) that they are extremely capable people.  Independence Days help them to see how much we do for them and how much they can do for themselves.  It is wonderful to see how their confidence has been bolstered through this practice and having it happen all in a day means less push back and more exploration and willingness to try new things. 

With every new Independence Day, they find there are new things they can do.  Now, non-Independence Days (A.K.A. normal days) are not ‘dependent days’.  There is more general independence all around and that is most definitely one of our parenting goals.  To raise strong, independent girls.

We have many adages in our house.  Our children hear them often.  One favorite is, “With freedom, comes responsibility”.  Independence Days have given practical meaning to this adage and for that, I am grateful.


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1 comment:

  1. What an interesting idea. We will definitely give it a try!