I have a list on my fridge of Age-Appropriate Tasks. It is most often a source of regret for me as I look at all the wonderful things both my boys are fully capable of doing and which, alas, I am still doing for them.
I’m fully on board with kid self-sufficiency—I just don’t seem to have found the time to teach them to be self-sufficient. And yes, that does seem a bit ironic.
A couple of weeks ago in my MOPS group, we were discussing the classic New Year’s topic of organizing our homes and lives, and I brought up the question of getting rid of toys. Should I do it for them and bag older toys up while they’re at school, I asked the speaker, or should I really make them do it, despite their reluctance? I had heard advice both ways.
It was another mom who made what I thought was a great comment:
If you don’t teach them how to do it now, how are they supposed to deal with their stuff when they’re older?
It was a salient point. I was, I realized, less concerned with their future self-sufficiency and more concerned with the end result. With doing each task as quickly as possible and having it end up the way I thought it should look.
Take our bookshelves, for example. My younger son loves to take all the books out to look them over and choose what ones to read each night. He is fully capable of putting the books back afterward, but I don’t usually make him do it. Why? Because I want our shelves to look like bookshelves in catalogs and home decorating shows–books organized in these beautiful vertical stacks by color and book size, alternated perfectly with little pieces of art. And to that end, I always find myself on the floor putting the books away so I can put them away in a nice eye-pleasing line from the tallest books down to the smallest.
Except even then our shelves don’t look much like the magazine and catalog shelves. Here’s the thing: Maybe you can do that with your bookshelves when you only have ten books. But when you’re a family of readers and have a good-sized collection of books, it’s tougher. (And you know what else? People don’t actually live in those rooms in magazines and catalogs. I don’t care if that’s the real designer’s home—you can’t tell me she didn’t shove all her extra, non-eye-pleasing stuff under the bed or into a closet before they came to take the pictures!)
We actually live in our house, all five of us, and we actually read the books in the shelves. I love it that my kids enjoy books, but I don’t love putting those books away for them. So here’s what I decided: The way my son puts away his own books, even if it’s not in a nice symmetrical line, is good enough.
And if that’s good enough, then maybe the way they make their lunches with perhaps not enough carrots and too many tortilla chips and the way they make their beds with the duvet covers not exactly perfectly smooth—those things will have to be good enough too. I can certainly take an advisory role, but in the end, I have to let them take ownership of these tasks.
If I don’t allow the (to me) imperfect ways they want to do their own stuff to be good enough, then they’re never going to do anything on their own. And I don’t want to be visiting my son’s college dorm room to arrange his books in an eye-pleasing line (although something tells me I wouldn’t be the only parent doing so).
Last week I had my older son straighten up the couch, which is no small task—blankets have to be folded, toys put away, and throw pillows arranged. To be perfectly honest with you, I was planning to re-arrange the pillows once he was done—you know, to how they were supposed to be. But when he announced he was done and I looked it over, yes, he’d done it completely differently than I would have, but you know what? I think I actually liked it better.
Start children off in the way they should go,
and even when older they will not turn from it.
What can you let go of and let good enough be good enough?