Aprons And Bibs: Joy In The Middle School Years


Throughout our lifetimes we all wear either an apron or a bib and it is during early adolescence that our children become able to choose for themselves which of these they will wear. Show them how to make the choice that unlocks happiness!


The years that our children are young seem, for most of us, a sweet and delightful time scattered with bits of turmoil mixed in with episodes of pandemonium. These last are generally talked about with laughter over glasses of tea as one mother after another tells similar tales of mayhem in the playroom. These stories are told and retold to our mothers and friends as we all revel in the joy of little children.


But hanging over those precious years is the specter of adolescence; those years when the concerns and consequences of parenting become greater and last longer. These are the years when your children begin to test their independence and notice that there is a world beyond the Harbor Home you've created for them. They are looking for their place in the wider world, and with this search often comes frustration and fear leading to times of conflict with those they need and love the most.


Enjoying these years is something that many parents consider impossible, opting instead for survival. But by putting in place a few opportunities for your child to grow, gradually expanding their limits and remembering to be patient, these years can hold as much joy as those younger ones. Getting there, as with all aspects of creating a Harbor Home, never happens by accident but by strategic and purposeful loving care. You can make sure that you and your child enjoy these years, and the best way to make certain of this is to help them to make the fundamental shift.


The element that I call "the fundamental shift" is the realization that once humans become grown, we become more responsible for others and not just ourselves. As we grow this responsibility gradually increases. By the age of 10 or 11 children can begin to reliably conduct acts of selflessness that they have taken some responsibility for initiating. In other words, they begin change their bibs for aprons.


Think about bibs and aprons for a moment. Both of these items do essentially the same thing, namely, keeping food off of clothing. The primary difference between the two is the wearer. When a person is wearing a bib they, generally, are being fed; served; protected. A person wearing a bib is often vulnerable. Consider now the one wearing an apron. That person is, generally, feeding; serving; working. A person wearing an apron is usually strong; generous; capable.


There is a time in each life to wear a bib. When we are young we are learning and must be cared for. Once we are old and have grown weak we must be cared for. But most of us, in order to live our best lives, should spend most of our lives wearing an apron. For your child this can and should begin at about the time they enter those middle school years. Acts of selflessness and service that take your child's eyes off of their own needs let them see the needs of others will help them be happier and better; more compassionate and kind; more able to cope with the world beyond your home.


Here are a few ways that you can help your child put on their apron and take off their bib:

  1. If you are not already, become active in a faith community. Often churches and synagogues have organized ways to serve the community. It's easier to tap into projects that are already in place and, typically, middle school children are welcome to take part. In addition, faith communities are often very grateful for the computer savvy young person to step in and run computer programs leave older people baffled. Ask your pastor or rabbi.

  2. Look for needs within your family and neighborhood. If an older family member or neighbor needs their grass cut and your child is able, allow them to take this on. The work will be very satisfying especially if they are offered payment and they (this is important) turn it down. If they get paid serving becomes employment. Both are good, but serving serves a different purpose. Let them visit the lonely or sort clothes at a local non profit thrift shop.

  3. Service clubs formed at schools offer opportunities to see beyond ourselves. Often these clubs invite young people with particular interests or talents to use those to serve the community. Ask questions and introduce yourself to the adult leaders at the school.

I've seen all these activities work in my family and other families that have produced some of the finest young people I've ever met. Your child can learn to balance sports, education and service in order to tap in to the fundamental shift. In doing this, your child is gaining confidence and learning that they are needed and valuable. If your child continues to wear a bib when they are completely ready to wear an apron they are missing out on becoming their best selves.


Throughout our lifetimes we all wear either an apron or a bib and it is during early adolescence that our children become able to choose for themselves which of these they will wear. Show them how to make the choice that unlocks happiness!

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