When I was in high school, there were a few friends I had who refused to touch a trash can. It wasn’t a germ issue as much as a laziness issue. As a result, they often refused to throw their trash away, leaving me to do their dirty work — literally. This irritated me to no end, and to this day, I refuse to hold my kids’ trash when they pull off their lollipop wrapper, peel their banana, or have eaten their way down to the apple core. My kids know they need to find a trash can or hold their trash until they do.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s not because I’m lazy (well, except for the laundry one below). But I hate to think of raising that kid who can’t deal with their own trash, or look an adult in the eye and introduce himself. And I’m not OK with having a child who doesn’t have the foggiest idea how to use the dorm washing machine. These habits start when kids are young, and yes, they do take time to teach and practice. But I’m starting my kids down the path to self-reliance by refusing to do these five things for them. Less work for me and a more prepared kid? That’s a win-win.
With three boys in similar sized clothes, folding the laundry was no fun task for me (though really, is it ever?). Was this Merric’s shirt or was it too small and now Asher’s? And the socks. So. Many. Socks. All of this was alleviated when I handed the task of sorting and folding laundry to my boys. Yes, it takes them longer and yes, there are often sock wars across the room, but the key is that I don’t have to do it. My 8- and 7-year-olds can do all their own clothes while I still help my 4-year-old with folding his shirts. Next up, working the washer.
I remember the shock the day the preschool teacher told me that my oldest knew how to tie his own shoes. I wasn’t shocked because it was such a dramatic developmental achievement, but because he never did it at home and always asked me to. Here was a skill that he had learned and that he did on his own at preschool, but I was still doing it for him at home. My preschooler was working me! Don’t get me wrong — I’ll happily tie shoes through preschool and even well into kindy. But once my kids have mastered the shoe-tying skill, I’m no longer bending down on soccer fields and store aisles because they don’t feel like it. Knot removal? I’m happy to help. Shoe tying? Not my job any more. (Even better? Check out one of my new favorite products — Clipzeez — that keep shoelaces tied. Genius!)
Around age 5 or 6, my husband and I started teaching our kids how to introduce themselves. I think it probably stemmed from our time as teachers, seeing high school students who couldn’t talk to an adult without looking at the ground and mumbling. We did lots of role-playing at home and practiced first with extended family and close friends. It was uncomfortable for the kids at first. They stumbled over their names and which hand to shake with. We had to work on how to actually listen to the person they were talking to. For example, if the other person said their name first, you didn’t ask what their name was after introducing yourself. But over time, the kids have become more and more comfortable and confident introducing themselves in social situations; even my four-year-old can do it now. This skill sets them apart from many of their peers now and will serve them well in the future.
Dealing with dishes
Buying food. Putting food away. Chopping, prepping, and cooking. Setting and clearing the table. Cleaning up the kitchen. There is a lot of work involved in getting food on the table for my family of 5 multiple times a day, which provides plenty of opportunities to teach my kids important kitchen skills. It seriously was a hallelujah moment when I realized my boys, with one on the floor, one on the counter, and one on silverware, could empty the entire dishwasher. My kids now empty the dishwasher, set the table, and clear away their dirty dishes. When it makes sense, I have the kids help me make parts of the meal to give us a chance to talk about chopping, stirring, mixing, and more. And I’m counting the days until my oldest is tall enough to wash the dishes.
Getting a drink
As any mom knows, the day can be filled with a litany of requests. “Can I have a drink?” “Can I have a snack?” “Can I ride on a dinosaur?” Kids are adorable and precious and magical, but their requests NEVER STOP. So by the time my kids could reach the water dispenser on the fridge, I taught them how to get a cup out of their drawer and get their own water. Yes, sometimes they still ask me to do it — often when I’m sitting down with a glass of wine on the opposite side of the room — but I know that they can do it on their own. Which makes sweetly saying, “No, but you can get yourself a glass” so much more satisfying to say.