I’m not quite half way through raising my first child to adulthood. My last child is still a babe in arms. In the mess and muddle of having a house full of small children I have to be on top of my game – making sure everything gets done is a full time job!
So letting the kids take the lead with chores, choosing their activities or taking on responsibilities of their own can sometimes feel like too much effort. If, like me, you also happen to be the only adult in the home a lot of the time, loosening your grip on how things get done may seem even more risky.
I mean, why would you make things harder on yourself? Why ask a seven year old to help wash up, knowing you will most likely need to do it again when they go to bed? Or ask your nine year old to fold their own clothes when the resulting mashed up insides of their chest of drawers makes your blood pressure rise immediately.
I know it’s hard to let go. It’s difficult to embrace the mess, and the mess-ups that come with letting the kids take charge. But let go, and you will see great leaps in learning, motivation and skill all around you.
Sometimes being a good leader means allowing other people to shine. The more responsibility you give your kids as they grow, the more they will be able to grow into the responsibility over time. And this matters, possibly more than you realize in the day to day muddle of family life.
Maybe they won’t do things the way you would prefer, or they may choose a different path than the one to which you would have directed them. But if they figure challenges out for themselves, then you might just get more than you bargained for in wonderful ways.
As your preschooler becomes a primary aged child, or your pre-teen turns into a teen, nurture the part of them that is eager to learn, to please you and to be valued for who they are.
Celebrate them when they get things right and develop essential life skills. Help them to understand what went wrong when they mess up, and support them as they figure out how to fix it. Don’t swoop in or over-supervise, and you’ll see your child bloom into a capable young adult in return.
The natural result of trusting your child as a child is that you will be able to trust them as an adult too. If neither of you ever feel that trust in your child’s capacity, they will always be holding back, second guessing, or waiting to be rescued.
Kids who learn how to recover from minor mess-ups gain skills that serve them for life. You’ll be able to trust them to feel their way through more difficult situations, and take steps to repair things when they get more significant problems than folding the laundry wrong.
We may want to direct our children in their choices, but long term we want them to make good ones all by themselves. Living with a calm, loving parent who encourages exploration (and allows failure from time to time) your child will learn more about how to make good choices than an obedient child who follows directions ever could.
Even more importantly, you will protect your child from abuse and exploitation in the future. Obedient children are susceptible to peer pressure, the dominant influence of a future partner, teacher, boss or friend. Defiance, temper tantrums and obstinacy is your child honing their self-protection and self-expression skills. To defend against abuse, injustice and oppression, these outbursts need to be skillfully refined — not squashed.
It’s hard, but your patience today will protect your child from the worst of human relationships in the future. Give them responsibility, and you also gift them with dignity, self-respect and a deep knowing they are capable, valuable and trustworthy. In the short term moments that frustrate you now, take a deep breath and take the long view.
Nothing settles and soothes a person more than feeling understood by the people on whom they most need to rely. When your child gets mad or sad, or does something really bad, try and find your way into seeing their point of view. Even if their behaviour doesn’t make sense to you yet, bear in mind that however your child is feeling, it makes sense to them that they feel this way.
Find out why and you will be showing them the respect and connection than builds epic teamwork, and a family you all feel safe, loved and protected in. When you know why, role model a better way forward. You’ll probably find you learn just as much about how to be a great parent as they do about being a great kid.
Nina Farr is a Leadership and Parenting Coach who works with parents who are raising their families alone. She is a TEDx speaker and author of I am the parent who stayed – joyfully parenting alone available on Amazon.