Protect, Provide, Prepare. This is the mission statement for parents. As soon as we are handed our precious child, this action statement defines our role. Most of us do well at the first two. The last one trips us all up at some time or another. Why is preparing our children so hard and why should we give this our very best effort? Read and be encouraged!
I remember when I brought my first child, a 4lb. 9oz. daughter, home from the hospital in 1982. With every passing mile she looked smaller and more delicate. Up to that point, I hadn't even been able to keep a hamster alive...but I pushed that to the back of my mind. I reminded myself that I had had a lot of experience with young children. I knew how to change diapers and feed. But the rest I was just going to have to figure out on my own. I don't have to tell you that it was hard. You get it.
Four decades have passed from that day to this and, even though there were many challenges along the way, I managed to raise her and her brother. They are now fully functioning independent adults. It was hard, but the rewards have been amazing.
In the years since my children began living on their own it occurred to me that raising children really boils down to three things: protection, provision, and preparation. They are three pretty simple concepts, but the reality of working these out can be daunting.
Most parents protect instinctively. They protect the children by keeping them from harm, caring for them in sickness, and so on. Provision is also a simple concept. Some parents can provide much more than others, but we know that we are all responsible for providing shelter, food, education, health care, stability, and other basics. It is the last one that is difficult: preparation. This is the challenging part.
Preparing our children means that we get them ready to be adults. It means conceding that your adorable little darlings will grow up. Just like you did. Watching your little ones get older is a bittersweet experience. You are bursting with pride, yet your hearts ache in the letting go. It is an emotional dichotomy. I know. I've been there.
The truth is, we are responsible for making sure that our little ones are as confident and capable as possible. Children who are encouraged to do as much as they can for themselves are brave and happy. They can make friends and do new things. They can solve problems. These qualities are the very essence of being prepared to be a grown up.
What specific, concrete things can we do to help our children become more capable and confident? Where do we find the patience and the courage to prepare our children for the world beyond our door? Because hear me well: it takes patience and courage in large measure. Children are on a learning curve as they grow. They need you to teach them.
Here is a short list of practical ways to reach the elusive goal of preparing your child to grow up. If you have anything helpful to add to this list, don't keep it to yourself! Share them here in the comments. I'd love to hear from you.
Let them do it. It is harder. (I know) It takes longer. (I know) They don't do it right. (I KNOW). Let them do it anyway. Whatever it is, if they are remotely capable and slightly interested, let them do it. Let them put on their own shoes. Let them zip their zipper. Let them fasten their car seat. Let them brush their own teeth. Let them sweep. Let them feed the dog. Praise their efforts. Say things like, "I like it when you_____. It is good that our family works together!" Smile at them.
Teach them to do it. Once there is ability and interest, help them improve their skills. With patience and a good attitude, give suggestions for easier or more effective ways to do things. For example, "I usually hold the broom this way. (demonstrate without taking the broom)It's easier." "Try matching the tall part of your shoe to your tallest toe." If your gentle suggestions fall on deaf ears, let it go. Except the car seat thing. That has to be right. Duh.
Encourage them to do it. Even if the task is easier to do yourself, offer your child the opportunity to try something new. As they get a little older encourage things that are a bit of a stretch. Trust them to replace a lightbulb while you supervise closely. Let them pancakes on an electric griddle while you supervise closely. They could hammer nails into scrap wood with a real hammer and real nails. Buy an old toaster or other small kitchen appliance at a thrift store, cut off the electric cord, give your child a screwdriver and let them take the thing apart. Help them become capable.
I know that it is easier, especially when the children are young, to do all the day to day chores yourself. I know that you are busy and in a hurry much of the time. But ask yourself what your mission is as a parent. Is it to get stuff done or to teach your child how to do the things that they will have to do? Be the parent that enjoys today and prepares for tomorrow. Raise a capable, confident child who is prepared, little by little, for their adult life.