Yesterday, I had two interesting conversations that made me think a lot about how much I think we should do for our kids.
I have a son in 3rd grade and he had to submit a group science project. He met with his group twice for a few hours each time and they prepared the project together. The project is due tomorrow and the second meeting was yesterday. Last night I got a frantic call from one of the mothers explaining that they nearly completed the project but they have one last thing to build and that is a clock. The kids have to prepare a functional clock by themselves in a day. Since they did not complete that part of the project she suggested that we do it for them or buy a clock kit which they can submit. Shouldn’t assignments be based on what they learn in class? If four good students cannot do the assignment by themselves them maybe something is wrong here. She didn’t agree and explained that we did not have time to go into that and should just divide the work between the parents so that our kids have something to submit. I asked her what we would do when they had a test. Do we go in with them to take the test? Don’t worry she replied. They have already had their science test this year! OK. Somebody clearly missed the point here. In the end, one of the mothers called the teacher at 8PM to find out exactly what they needed to do and it turned out that the clock did not need to be functional and was not an important part of the project. Now that made sense. My husband and I started talking about how we see our role in our kids education. We were both nerds both took school very seriously and had very high grades. Our parents both explained the importance of school and got the message across but never did our homework for us. When we went to college and grad school and our parents were not there with us we didn’t need them to tell us what we had to do. They had given us the tools to do what we needed to do but didn’t actually have to be there to make sure that it was done for us. That is what I want to give to my kids too. Is that not exactly what we need to do as parents? We simply cannot do everything for our kids. We have to make sure that they have the discipline and the tools to do what they need to do for themselves. How many times has your child said “I have no homework today” and it turns out he did. It happens to us. I am sure that occasionally it happens to everyone. We can check every single book every day to make sure that everything has been done but is that the right thing to do? What happens when you forget to check or when your child leaves his books at school? I see my role as making sure that my child understands the importance of doing homework and realizes that it is his responsibility to do it. I am not saying that we are there yet. I cannot just sit back and know that their homework is being done without my intervention. It’s a process and we are working on it. I am always available to explain things that are not clear and help when help is needed but I do not take responsibility for my child’s homework and don’t think that I should.
Later on, I had an interesting conversation with a friend about our role in ensuring that our kids brush their teeth. I told her that I would love to develop an app that lets me know when my kids don’t brush their teeth or when they don’t brush for long enough. “But that is the parents job” she explained to me. I asked her what happens when our kids are 12 or 13? Do we go into the bathroom with them to brush their teeth? At some age – for some it will be 5, 8, 10, 12 or even 18 – a child will have to take responsibility for his own teeth, homework and many other issues. Are we giving our children the tools that they need? Are we turning them into independent individuals or are we making them rely on us to such an extent that they will not succeed without us?
I once heard that one of the ways you can test a manager is to see how his staff manage when he is not around. Since parenting is very similar to management (just without the salary, sick days, social benefits, recognition and vacation days) I thought that this is an interesting comparison. How do our kids act when we are not around?
We all teach our kids how to behave and try to give them values. Let’s take a basic example. We teach our kids to say “please and thank you”. When we are around we make sure that they do. What happens when we aren’t around? How do your kids behave when you are not around? How do their treat others? Do they respect adults? Do they need you to be around to behave or can they use the tools that you gave them without your help.
Sometimes, the easiest way to do something for someone is to just do it for them. I don’t see that as the role of parenting. I think that the role is much more complex. We have to teach our kids how to do things for themselves and make sure that they have the discipline and tools to do these things even when we are not around.
How do you see our role as parents?