I have known for years that as a parent, my job isn’t to make my kids happy. As my friend Missy wrote, I don’t want my kids to be happy. My job, as their mom, is to prepare them to be decent hard-working independent adults. That means teaching them things they don’t want to learn, making them work so they learn how to work, and enduring all the incumbent whining and complaining. But, all too often, I opt for what’s easier for me – doing it myself or not doing it at all.
The problem is that by taking the easy way out, I’ve failed to teach my kids skills they desperately need to know. By doing it for them, I give them the unspoken but very clear message that they aren’t capable of doing it themselves. I’ve always tried to build up their confidence and encourage them to try new things, but then I turn around and contradict myself with my actions.
That ends today.
A friend of mine recommended the book Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement last week. After a frustrating Saturday morning working in the yard with my kids, I marched inside and ordered it for my Kindle. (For the record, eventually they worked hard and their attitudes improved greatly in the afternoon.)
I am only half-way through the book so far, but I am here today to tell you that it’s so refreshing to read a book about parenting by someone who is like me – NOT naturally organized. The author, Kay Wills Wyma, says things that I’ve said so many times, like “Why bother putting something away when we’re just going to get it out again?” But at the same time, she and I both really prefer our spaces to be neat and clean.
I appreciate her analysis of the problem – that we as parents are failing our kids by not making them work. We’re setting them up for depression and despair and failure later in life by not building competence and confidence in their abilities to excel and work hard and master real tasks.
Her solution was to tackle one new thing, work on forming one new good habit, each month. She assigned a container to each child, placed 30 $1 bills (or coins) inside, and then each day if a child failed to pass inspection for the tasks that month, she’d remove a dollar. They kept the dollars that remained at the end of the month. The first month was simple: make your bed and get everything off the floor each morning (and she had a container too, so the kids could inspect her room). Each following month, she added assignments.
I am a full-time work-at-home mom, so this is going to be especially challenging. I do best with short-term challenges – three months max. So I’ve decided to take advantage of summer vacation to start developing new habits. In the long run, it will be a huge help to the daily functioning of our home, and it will change the dynamics of entitlement I’m seeing.
Today is the first day of my kids’ summer vacation, so at 9am, I will do the first room inspection of our Life Skills Bootcamp. The kids needs to make their beds and pick everything up off the floor in their bedrooms and the bathroom. We’re doing 3-week increments because I’m trying to cram it into a summer and because I think they’re up to it.
I will post periodic updates this summer (in a way that tells the good, the bad, and the ugly but still respects my kids). I know we’ll have some bumps in the road, and we will most likely tweak it as we go. But my goal is for Team Bennett to be trained and ready for the 2013-2014 school year by late August. Here’s my plan.
(click the image to print your own free copy)
Unit 1: Care for Your Personal Space – Bedrooms
Make the bed, pick everything up off the floor, put clothes away (clean in drawers, dirty in hampers), hang up towels, remove personal items from the bathroom.
Unit 2: Care for Your Nutrition – Cooking
June 23-July 13
Plan a meal, make a shopping list, purchase the items at the store (I will provide the money and will teach them how to find and select items in the grocery store), prepare the meal, clean it up. Family members are required to eat what’s put in front of them. In this unit we will also talk about what makes a healthy, well-balanced meal. Each of my kids will cook one meal per week.
Unit 3: Care for Your Clothes (and other washables) – Laundry
July 14-August 3
Sort, wash, dry, fold, and put away your dirty laundry. Each child will be responsible for their own clothes, sheets, and towels. This way, if they run out of clothes to wear, they are the ones at fault for failing to plan ahead. And I hope that they learn quickly how much time and effort they save by putting clothes away instead of tossing them into the hamper if they aren’t actually dirty.
Unit 4: Care for Your Home – Cleaning
Learn how to really clean the bathroom (including the tub/shower), floors (hardwood, tile/linoleum, and carpet), refrigerator, deep-freezer, and windows, and dust. Each child will be responsible for one zone each week, and we will rotate zones so everyone gets a chance to learn.
- Telephone etiquette: how to make a call, answer a call, take a message, handle telemarketers
- Restaurant etiquette: how to order, how to pay, how to tip servers (always be generous)
- Car washing (inside and outside)
- Pet care: change the cat litter, feed the pets, clean up the yard, bathe the dog, clean the fish tank
- Manage money: examine family accounts. Practice by working with a food budget for the cooking unit.
What do you think about doing a Building Life Skills summer bootcamp with your kids? Do you see something missing? What has worked best for teaching your kids to work hard and to be independent?