Yesterday, I brushed my almost-six-year-old daughter’s teeth for her. Not because she had arms in casts and couldn’t reach, but just because she asked. Rather, because she was whining for me to do it and I wanted to make that go away.
I’m not sure how I turned into this mom. I must have fallen into some Benedryl-induced slumber and when I woke up, my daughters were suddenly big—and very capable of brushing their own teeth. It’s me who needs to catch up to where they are. I edited a story that appeared in our August issue about this very thing—how to ease our kids into taking on age-appropriate tasks—and I know there are many of us out there stuck in this sticky web of doing too much for our kids.
As the story we published outlines, a big reason is simply the time crunch. We need bodies out the door at a certain time, and if we wait on our kids to do the five things that need to happen before they’re ready and in the car, we may all be late. Mornings may be the time I’m most guilty of doing too much. While my eight-year-old, Anna, will now get her own breakfast (mostly, anyway) and get herself dressed, it wasn’t so long ago that she was asking for help with these things, just because she knew we’d do it for her. And why would I find myself putting my eight-year-old’s shirt on her? Because I was doing it for her five-year-old sister, Avery, (who, of course, was perfectly capable of getting her clothes on by herself, too). But Avery has mastered the art of the fine whine, and sometimes I. Just. Can’t. So I brush their hair and put it in pony tails (Anna finds putting a pony tail in too taxing) and, some days, even find myself brushing Avery’s teeth because she waaaaaants me to. Yesterday, I saw my husband putting Avery’s shoes on for her. I sighed. But how can I judge?
I go for periods of time oblivious to this terrible habit we’ve gotten into. And in my defense, we also go through phases where the kids happily take on the tasks they want me to do on other days. Sometimes, I’ll come downstairs from getting ready for work to find them all independently brushed and polished and playing in the driveway and tell myself, See—you haven’t completely ruined them.
But we have a long way to go. I cringe when I hear about what other kids do for themselves. My sister’s kids, who aren’t much older than mine, fry themselves eggs and pancakes and grilled cheese sandwiches, while mine complain if I ask them to make their own toast. A friend’s daughter, who is younger than both of mine, picks out her own clothes every morning, while I still do this for my kids (it’s just easier!).
Read more: How to raise a self-sufficient kid>
I realize that all of my shortcuts are depriving my kids of gaining life skills and independence. Handing over tasks to them will also eventually ease my load, which would be a great help as well as a more logical division of labour in our house. And, of course, when my kids do do things for themselves, they beam with pride. What more incentive do I need?
I decided to use the start of the school year as the jumping off point for a new regime. First up: Getting my kids to pack their own lunches. It’s not that complicated, right? And lunches are our most-dreaded job, so why not give them the ability to take this on. Maybe they’ll even enjoy it. We started practising this week while they’re at camp. I recently bought bento-type containers, thinking they would make the job easier because they can just fill in the spots and not have to fiddle with multiple containers and lids. They grumbled when I first brought it up, but didn’t seem to mind the actual process once they got into it. Same on day two. On day three, they started talking at dinner about what they would put in their lunches and things to put on my grocery list (hooray!). I think our biggest challenge will be incorporating this step into our evening routine.
The second task I handed over to them completely is getting ready for bed (can you tell that evenings are our most frazzled time?). So now, I lie on my bed (ahhhh) and tell them to come and get me when they’ve finished their checklist: pyjamas on; teeth brushed; face washed; gone pee; books chosen. Seriously, they’re so excited to come and say “I’m ready for checklist!” and then foist their books on me when they get my high five. It may not last, but right now, it’s so good. I need to add choosing clothes for the next day to this list, but I’m trying to work in baby steps.
Except for the aforementioned episode of putting Avery’s shoes on for her, I think mornings may be getting better because of this, too. At least for Anna—she is a girl who thrives on structure and routine, so the idea of checking things off a list gives her a great sense of accomplishment and I’ve noticed her also getting dressed and brushing her teeth in the mornings without any prompting from us.
Avery is still a work-in-progress, but that’s OK. She’s keen on doing other things like setting the table and helping take out the recycling, so I know the rest will come. In the meantime, I just need to add to her load slowly so she doesn’t get overwhelmed. And invest in earplugs for the whining.
Read more: How to handle household chores… with love>
What tasks do your kids take on at your house?
Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005. Read more of her Tracy’s mama memoir posts and tweet her @T_Chappell.