Leave it the Shell Alone
When you have children, you finally appreciate all your parents have done for you.
You’ve heard this phrase, I’m sure (possibly from a frustrated parent when you were a teen).
For me, adopting the children did not bring the magical instant awareness, mostly because my parents never dealt with this brand of crazy or needed to make the kind of decisions we do. (That’s why I started this blog, because almost no one I know in person can say, “yes, I understand exactly what you’re talking about!”)
However, when we began home-schooling this year, I finally realized the level of work my mother did behind the scenes while teaching four children at home.
Sometimes I believed I was homeschooling myself, even in elementary grades.
I’ve seen a specific expression on my daughter’s face when I direct her to go back to the textbook and look for information. I recognize the look because I remember the way it felt from the inside of my face.
I was less forward about communicating my feelings. My girl… Not so much. She actually says the words sometimes. With that tone.
Why don’t you just teach me instead of making me look it up? Since you’re my teacher…
I smile and explain she needs researching skills.
Almost everything I do these days is with an eye toward the time she no longer needs me—which will arrive even sooner than I expect.
Being needed is a powerful urge. I find myself stepping toward my kids when I see them struggle, even for just a moment. I’m learning to stop, fold my arms and wait.
When I was 6 or 7, I read a story about a little girl who lived on a farm. She and her father were waiting for chicks to hatch. He left the barn for a bit, instructing her to leave the eggs alone.
After he left, one of the chicks managed to create a hole in the shell but struggled to break free and seemed to give up. The young girl cracked the egg for the chick. When the father returned, they cheered the birth of their first chick, but the celebration was short-lived as the chick passed away.
The man asked his daughter if she had helped the chick. When she admitted she had pulled the shell apart, he explained that the chick needed to struggle out of the shell on its own in order to be strong enough to live outside the shell.
The story was actually about obeying parents even when children don’t understand exactly why they should. However, now that I’m the parent, this story holds different meaning.
I watch my friends do things for their children (even grown children)…and in spite of my best intentions, sometimes I catch myself “doing” as well.
Tying the 10 year-old’s shoes. Cutting the 12 year-old’s food automatically. Helping the 14 year-old with the math problem before the child has attempted solving it alone. Never teaching the child to cook, clean up, work a dishwasher or clothes dryer, run a lawn mower, or change the oil. Driving a licensed teen to work or school, not for the lack of an extra car but because we can’t seem to let him go on his own.
Hamstringing and handicapping our kids with love.
Sometimes we can’t seem to fight that strong urge to be needed. Watching them grow up SO fast is a bit too painful. Tying the shoes “one last time” reminds us they are still our children.
I’m not suggesting we should never help our kids, nor that an occasional helping hand will keep them from learning. (Also, definitely not advocating a completely hands-off approach. Children require healthy boundaries and guidance.)
However, since my kids experienced a rough start, I found myself falling into the habit of “doing” for them. Trying to make up for their tough beginning.
About 6 months after the kids came to live with us, I was still helping them dress in the morning—using the rationalization that although they were five and seven, they were emotionally closer to two and four.
Hubby put a stop to it one morning, telling me, “the kid is capable of putting on his own underwear. He’s five. Stop holding him back.”
Disgruntled at Hubby’s interference in my fabulous parenting, I handed the boy his clothes and stepped back to prove that the child needed my help.
And I suddenly realized I was “doing” for them to try to make up for all we had missed. Innocent and loving intent, but in the process, I was actually hindering their development.
I fight the urge to over-help every day. I can’t speak for dads, not being one, but I think this is a struggle for most mothers and possibly all women. I’m not being sexist—I just think that we as women are wired to care deeply and sometimes we take it a little too far.
Allowing them to be children for as long as possible is fine. However, even children can learn to do things for themselves.
And they should.
Once, when I interviewed candidates for an open position, a mother arrived with her son and sat through the interview with him. She handed me his resume. She answered a few of the questions. She presented her unsolicited, glowing commendation of his best traits.
The young man seemed pretty sharp and appeared uncomfortable with his mother’s presence. Based on her personality, I got the feeling she didn’t give him a choice regarding her involvement.
I’m sure she thought she was giving him his best chance. She probably assumed, “as his mother, I know all of his best qualities and can vouch for his worthiness of this position. Who knows this kid better than I?”
Guess who didn’t get a second interview.
That was an extreme case, but she probably started out by tying his shoes when he was 12. The desire to be needed is difficult to release.
But I strongly believe we need to let our kids fight their way out of their own shells.
Require them to have experiences that make them uncomfortable. Allow them to fail while they still live in our house and are able to come home for support and advice.
I’m doing my best to keep myself from cracking that shell. To let them struggle. To allow them to develop the strength they’ll need to survive without me.
Especially since, some days, I’d rather duct tape the shell and let them remain children forever.