The other morning I learned yet another valuable lesson from my kids. Oh the joys of parenting! (Yes, that was a little sarcastic.) I seem to learn more from my failures than from the things I am doing right. But maybe that’s how wisdom works.
Méav and I had just returned from dropping Iona at school and were taking our coats off. I hung mine up and bent down to help her. She was having trouble getting the zipper to release. But she pushed me away, “I do it!”
Now, so that you understand (and take my side) Méav is almost three years old and, like most three year olds, is reaching for independence at nearly every opportunity. And, like most children’s coats, the zipper isn’t actually designed adequately so that a child can operate it effectively. (Am I making a strong case yet?)
Well, I listened and backed off and let her try to undo the zipper again. But she was still having trouble. So, being the good (read pushy and rushed) parent that I am I offered my help again.
“I do it!”
There was that determined, but not defiant, tone again.
So, I pulled my hands back and let her. And I told her that it was okay to ask for help if she needed it.
Do you know what happened next? Yeah, she got the zipper undone . . . all by herself. It’s one of those moments as a parent when you’re both proud and a little perturbed at the same time. I was proud of her determination to stick to it and keep working on it. But I was perturbed because we could have had the coats hung up and been on to the next thing by now.
Now, so that you’re a bit relieved, I’ll let you know that I made the right choice and praised her for her accomplishment and hard work. And I didn’t let the seed of frustration linger or find any soil in my heart. She had the resolve to stick to finishing what was, for her, a difficult task and to find the pleasure in accomplishing it.
You know what that means, right? She’s gained a small level of capability and independence that will allow her to take more responsibility in the days to come.
Now this may seem like a really small thing, and in the light of that moment, it might be. But as far as I can see, a large part of my responsibility as a parent is to be nurturing my kids towards an independence that won’t require me to do everything for them. Frankly, I don’t want to have to show up to school at lunch and cut up their pizza. And I don’t have the time to come to recess and retie their shoes for them.
As parents, we become fools when we rush in too soon. We sometimes coddle when we should encourage. And we seek to rescue before we’ve let them learn resolve.
Now, I’m not saying that our children shouldn’t be supervised or watched over or protected or any of those things. But I think sometimes we have acted out of impatience and hastiness rather than patient and careful teaching. And we do ourselves a disservice by creating overly-needy and dependent kids who are unable to accomplish even the smallest tasks without adult intervention.
Nor am I suggesting that we should throw caution to the wind and push kids into situations that press them too hard or that would be dangerous to them.
But by letting them work at small tasks we give them opportunity for major accomplishment and growth. As well, they develop responsibility, resolve and a hard work ethic.
We should encourage them towards hope-filled dependence where they learn to trust God in all things, but aren’t afraid of taking some risks and working hard in difficult situations. And all the while, we will be learning right alongside of them.