The latest topic on the Momversation site is about teaching your kids independence. And I think it's actually a more important question than it initially appears to be on the surface because it goes to the core of not only who you are as a person, as a parent, as a member of society, but to the kind of adults your children will become.
One of the things Amy and I agreed on early on was that we were not going to treat our kids like babies. If you know anything about us, though, you'll know that we tend to be pretty extreme in all things, and, as a result, have probably pushed our kids to be more independent than they need to be at this age.
Our twins are 6 now. The girl has been and continues to be waaaaay more independent than the boy -- beginning with potty training at 18 months and now well into cooking meals (mostly) on her own.
And while, yes, isn't that all great and good, she's now completely obsessed with doing things on her own and helping out EVERY SINGLE MOMENT OF EVERY SINGLE DAY. And I know that must sound ridiculous to complain about, but she's totally that example of how anything in excess is just not necessarily a good thing.
She's even moving into that next stage of anticipating what might need to be done next and taking it upon herself to do it when it hasn't even been asked of her yet, and, bless her heart, is often either not quite right about what she thought needed to be done or finds it actually was not needed at all.
The boy, however, has learned to take complete and utter advantage of his sister's neurotic impulses, frequently tasking her with his own chores, and paying her in gushing compliments ("Saia, you're just soooo much better than me at making your bed and cleaning your room. You always do such a great job, and I'll just mess things up if I do it by myself."), knowing full well that she thrives solely on acknowledgement and appreciation for her efforts, and that his own self-deprecation is just an added bonus. And, yeah, she falls for it every time. And as much as we want to strangle him for being so lazy, it's really hard to punish the boy for working smarter, not harder.
But anyway...I guess we started actively encouraging their independence around 18 mos or so with the potty training thing, and found out pretty quickly that the more we asked them to try to do, the more they were capable of doing. And I would add that you should really let the "I can do it, Mom" mantra guide you. They really do have a sense of their being ready for the next thing. Within reason, of course. But we've often found that at the time they utter the phrase, "I can do it by myself!", they're actually still about 2-3 weeks away from technically being able to do it themselves, and so you should take this as a passive-aggressive invitation to either help them learn to do it the right way right now or they're gonna learn to do it on their own without you.
So, Saia and Chago now have daily chores (which they split and alternate), including bringing the mail in, letting the dogs out, picking up the dogs' poo, watering the garden, helping to set the table, and feeding and watering the dogs.
Then they have the weekly chores of taking to the curb and bringing back in the trash/recycle bins, and helping to put away dishes and groceries.
But because I'm just soooo bad about paying them for their chores on a daily basis (they don't get an allowance without having earned it), they now each get to pick something on the weekend (based on equal weighting of 1. behavior at school, 2. behavior at home, and 3. completion of chores). Sometimes it's a toy, a book, a movie, mini-golf, the water park, etc. And if they're dead set on a toy that week, we'll try to steer them towards the Dollar Tree or the dollar bins at Target because 1) they really don't need another crappy plastic thing they're going to break or lose by the end of the day, and 2) the value of the reward is in the eye of the beholder and not solely on the pricetag -- at least, not until they're 13.
But I had also heard something about this concept of setting aside 3 money jars for saving/spending/charity and am still determined to implement into our routine that at some point because I think it's a phenomenal idea.
So, they've also been dressing themselves every morning for a few years now (we, too, lay out their clothes during the week, but on the weekend, they're free to chose whatever they want -- well, sort of), brush their own teeth (which neither of them do a very good job of still, despite trying flavored toothpaste, musical toothbrushes, vibrating toothbrushes, nothing!), but they also make their beds every morning (which they've been doing since they were 2 -- hers, you can bounce a quarter off of -- his is a jumble of quilts and stuffed animals). One day a week they get a pass on the bed-making, and they can use it whenever they want.
And, don't get me wrong, none of this happens -- well, only very rarely does it happen -- without me on their case, finger-wagging, or even yelling. But they do it. And some of it, without even thinking about it anymore, which means the brainwashing was successful and we are now one step closer to our goal of total global domination.
But you know, as much as I think they're so strong and intelligent and self-sufficient little creatures, I have to keep reminding myself, and Amy, that they are only 6. That they still need the opportunity to enjoy being a child. And that has to include moments of frivolity and even carelessness. (Our recent trip to Texas really drove that home for me, I think.)
That they're not going to get it right every time. That getting it right is such a relative term. And that "I can do it by myself" could still get them very seriously injured if we're not paying close enough attention -- and sometimes, even when we are.
But that's what it's all about, I guess -- raising kids is this amazingly delicate balancing act between molding and developing responsible, well-mannered contributors to society...and just trying not to kill them.