Monday, June 4, 2012

Let Them Carry the Milk

English: Royal Mail rubber band, discarded in ...
English: Royal Mail rubber band, discarded in Alnmouth, Northumberland. (c) Tagishsimon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When our kids were two or three the temper tantrums came because they wanted to do things for themselves.  As parents, we wanted to do it for them because it was quicker, neater, better. How long should we be expected to wait for one little person to put on a pair of socks?!  Of course we needed to help.  There are more things to do in a day than dress one toddler, for Pete's sake!

Of course I wanted to scoop my son up and carry him like a baby when he was collecting ALL of the discarded rubber bands from the mailman's deliveries.  It was his latest collection but I just wanted to get some milk at the store.  Thirty minutes later we arrived at the store, one block away.  On the way home I wised up.  I gave him the gallon of milk to carry home (one block).  His hands were full, his muscles straining, he was too busy to collect rubber bands, or talk to neighborhood dogs.  He was too focused on his heavy load to walk the balance beams/sidewalk ledges along our neighbor's homes.  He didn't complain or feel punished.  He felt big.  Important.  Needed.

The danger with doing things for our wee ones when we want to go faster or be neater, is that we get stuck in that pattern of interaction, way past the time that it makes any sense.  I have seen 13 year olds have their food cut for them, their juice poured in the glass for them, their hair brushed, and clothes picked out.  This was not because of some household butler service.  It was because of a deep fear of spills and mishaps.  It was because of the involved adults' need for control or perhaps their own discomfort of seeing their "baby" growing up and not needing them anymore.

English: Gallon milk jugs – This photo is dedi...
English: Gallon milk jugs – This photo is dedicated to a great wikipedian and an innovator in milk juggery. You know who you are. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have heard of college students who have no idea how to live within a budget because every bill is paid for by mom and/or dad.  A credit card for one set of expenses (bill going to the parents), a mortgage or rent check sent every month on their behalf, family cell phone plan with unlimited use, and of course a vehicle that comes mysteriously without any car or insurance payments. If you are doing these types of things, STOP.   Treating our young adults like children will leave them feeling hollow and unproductive.  If our high school or college or even adult children are gaming into the wee hours of the morning but unable to focus their abilities on keeping a paying job, it's time we hand them the metaphorical gallon of milk. 

Big changes can't happen overnight.  Some sort of change can happen immediately though. Find some thing to hand back over, to let go of, to make the "child" figure out.  Stop giving spending money.  Announce that the car will need to be retired and replaced by a fleet of public transit buses and trains. Give a time frame when bills and responsibilities are going to be handed back over for them to control.  Help develop a budget. There will be frustration and confusion at first.  It may be hard to watch the choices that get made initially.  Messing up or failing is not a crime. Let them try so that they can test their own abilities.  Let them fail so that they can learn how strong they truly are.
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