“Stop doing these 17 things for your kids right now, or you’ll fail to raise
independent, successful human beings!”
Parents have been inundated with these types of articles lately, and I’ll be the first to admit I have some habits that fall into the “naughty” category. Packing my kids’ lunches? Check. Cleaning up after them? Check. Making sure their homework is done? Check, check, check.
My daughters are in second grade and kindergarten, and I’m looking forward to helping them become more self-sufficient in the coming year, simply by doing less for them.
But there are still some things I plan to continue
doing for them, for as
long as they’ll let me.
1. Telling them a bedtime story.
My kids love books, but the stories they seem to enjoy the most are the ones that come straight from the perpetually exhausted brains of their parents. Over the years, our bedtime stories have ranged from the heartfelt to the hilarious, from fairy tales created on the fly to discussions about space and nature. My husband and I have shared recollections of grandparents and great-grandparents, and the different world in which they grew up. All of these stories have played a vital role in sparking my kids’ curiosity about the world around them, and I’ve often even learned something new in the process. I imagine that someday our nightly stories will evolve into after dinner conversations over coffee, tea or ice cream, but the importance of the ritual will remain the same.
2. Noticing and praising when they’ve acted with compassion or kindness.
I’m not talking about ego boosting here; what I mean is simply noticing and recognizing when my kids do the right thing. Last week, when little sister dropped her snack on the ground and the threat of a meltdown was looming, big sister, unprompted, offered up her own granola bar as a replacement. “Hey, that was a really nice thing to do,” I told big sister, and I extended the kudos by mentioning it to their dad later that day. Believe me, there are plenty of days when sharing and being kind seem to be the last thing on my kids’ minds, so I’m all for highlighting these moments when they happen.
3. Offering them different foods, even if they’ve tried it already and swear they hate it.
My kids are fairly picky eaters, which I find frustrating. It’s not as though I’m serving them free-range quinoa with sautéed brussel sprouts and tofu; in recent history, they’ve given a ruthless thumbs-down to cheese pizza, homemade mini chicken pot pies, and chocolate chip pumpkin muffins (I mean, who turns down anything involving chocolate?!). Still, I’ll continue to encourage my kids to try lots of different foods, including items they’ve previously rejected, because I’m banking on the fact that one day their tastebuds will have an “aha!” moment. I refuse to believe their palates can’t expand to appreciate cuisine beyond apples, plain spaghetti and Goldfish crackers.
4. Giving them a safe space to vent over school, friendships or other issues, no matter how minor.
Yes, kids need to develop a thicker skin and learn how to handle disappointment and all that jazz. But that does not mean I can’t offer a non-judgmental ear when they come to me feeling sad or frustrated because so-and-so at school was mean or didn’t like their hairstyle that day. Being there to listen doesn’t necessarily mean solving the problem for my daughters, but my hope is that it will foster trust and openness that will extend into the pre-teen and teenage years.
5. Letting them see me being silly, even if it means embarrassing them sometimes!
Humor was a key element of my childhood. While we didn’t always say “I love you,” my family often showed affection via goofy behavior and jokes. When I played trumpet in the school band, I was always incredibly nervous about missing the high notes during my solos. In response, my dad promised that if I ever botched a note during a concert, he’d stand up and blow his nose loudly; that way, everyone in the audience would focus on him instead of my mistake. Naturally, I protested: “Noooo Dad that’s so embarrassing!!!” But I still had to smile, because I knew deep down this was my dad’s way of saying, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.”
Whatever my kids are facing in life, I want them to know I’ll be there for them, even when they are able to tie their own shoes, make their own lunches, and one day (someday!) even do their own laundry.
Gina Rich is a Wisconsin writer specializing in parenting, health, and the natural world.