We rarely had a foster child below the age of fourteen. When we did, it often meant a very troubled child. James was one; he was eight when sent to us from the detention center. As with all kids, he was a mix. He had a loving smile, a great temper, and fingers that like to make away with other people’s property. He astounded me one day by marching down to the laundry room with all his dirty laundry and announcing he was going to do a wash. He even had his sheets, towels, and pillow case with him.
I said, I would do them, but he insisted with a bit of pride, “I take care of my own dirty laundry.”
And he did. That is when I started teaching kids to do their own laundry. My kids were among the few in their college dormitories who knew how to do laundry.
Here is a long and rather scholarly article about how over-programmed we have become in the Western world. It casts a bit too much blame on parents:
The Case for Breaking Up With Your Parents – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The article might serve parents better if it talked about “The Case for Breaking Up With Your Kids.”
I love this quote in the article, which was from Kant: “Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large proportion of men, even when nature has long emancipated them from alien guidance, nevertheless gladly remain immature for life. For the same reasons, it is all too easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so convenient to be immature! If I have a book to have understanding in place of me, a spiritual adviser to have a conscience for me, a doctor to judge my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all. I need not think, so long as I can pay; others will soon enough take the tiresome job over for me.”
How he would have hated “Hovering Parents.” To me it was a reminder that parents should not do for kids what kids can do for themselves.
One of the facts of human life is that many of us prefer to have someone else do the hard stuff. The few who would rather do it themselves are often perfectionists and in many ways meet the needs of the corporate world better than most. I suspect those parents who became hovering parents combined perfectionism with a willingness to obey the”expert voices” that make them responsible for their children. These parents have been hounded by messages saying it was their job to keep their children happy and feeling good about themselves. Parents turned from “Sparing the Rod” to accepting responsibility for making their kids happy and self-satisfied. An impossible job.
Finally, there is the over emphasis on education as guaranteeing success and the good life. This is being questioned more. Here is an article stressing how leaky the boats being rowed toward more and more education have become for some.
This has further pushed parents to worrying more and becoming more and more over-involved. Many college professors complain about being called by hovering parents and berated for giving a poor grade.
WHAT IS A PARENT TO DO?
The first article tells children to break up with their parents. Not a nice suggestion for parents who have done their best by trying to protect children from negative feelings. Moreover, it suggests today’s parents are holding their kids back and that only perpetuates the kids not assuming responsiblity for their lives.
However, suggesting breaking up with parents also ignores that times have changed and the world economy is shifting. The second article recognizes this shift.
WHAT CAN A PARENT DO?
If my kids were ten years or older, and still relying on me to meet all their needs, I would sit down with them and talk about the rules for success.
- Getting along with people.
- Willingness to work and particularly to work at the jobs most people don’t like.
- An open mind that keeps learning not just what is needed to do a job, but what is needed to be a well rounded person, who knows what matters, is in charge of negative emotions, and leads a balanced life.
Then I would lay out my agenda for the years left before they leave home. Those years will be devoted to the second and third essentials. Hopefully you have been working on the first skill. Mainly it involves attention to common sense manners, being kind, having realistic expectations of others.
Entering the work world is the next step. You cannot send a ten year old out to the work world, but you can introduce them to pay for work through a weekly allowance. Only if you are on food stamps should giving an allowance be a hardship, but believe me, it is really worth the effort. If you feel you cannot give an allowance give privileges.
As part of manners, training my kids would already be doing some chores. Pay for work means adding a slightly harder weekly chore and paying the child to do it. As James demonstrated, by the age of ten, kids should be able to do their own laundry, so one chore to add is doing someone else’s laundry or taking on doing the household linen washing, folding, and returning.
Each paid chore should come with a job description and a check list for each step completed. If manners are a problem or even if not, making “a good work attitude” should be part of each check list. This means work is done without reminding, done cheerfully; criticisms are not argued with.
Parents should teach the chore following the army’s “see one, do one, teach one”.
- The child watches you do the chore.
- You watch and coach the child through doing the chore.
- You have the child do one and talk to you as if teaching you.
- You repeat step three until the child gets it.
Before doling out pay, parents should inspect the job and make sure it is done properly using the check list. Problems must be corrected before the child is paid.
Think this means more work for you? Definitely, at least until the child gets it and can do it on his own. Then you are freed from that job. Every year or six months add a chore. Have other jobs that can be done for extra pay providing the child is doing his other chores well.
Also, the older your kids and the more imbued with the Me-culture, the more you can expect complaints. Take a deep breathe, nod your head, but hold to the new rules. Your have an obligation to see that your kids have the skills needed to survive in the work world.
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