By Teresa Renee Bain
It may be hard to imagine living in an empty, quiet house if there are children in your home. Children and all their toys, blankets, books, snacks, shrieks, laughter, demands, and never-ending curiosity. As a mom with young children, I remember being bone tired as I attempted to juggle so many tasks. I both longed for and dreaded the thought of a quiet, empty house without my children.
But trust me, eventually children leave, and our homes are quiet.
My oldest daughter took her first road trip shortly after she turned eighteen. If she had been someone else’s child I might have admired her desire to get out and see the world. More than once she patiently said, “I know Mom.” For implied in my endless questions was my worry she was not capable without me. Before driving away, she graciously let me cram a massive emergency pack into her car which we both knew was really for my peace of mind.
My youngest daughter is living on the other side of the country in downtown Baltimore. From our long-distance phone conversations, I picture what her neighborhood looks like, the corner grocery store where she shops and the harbor she walks to when she wants to feel closer to nature. I am not with her to make sure she dresses warmly, feeds herself well or gets adequate sleep. She must take care of herself.
Our children will eventually leave us. Just as we left those who cared for us. I wonder if the truth of parenting is not how well we hold onto our children, but how we prepare them to leave?
I was reminded of a visit with a friend who has a young child. When I arrived, she and her child came out to greet me. The mother and I stayed outside to visit while her child returned to the house to play. A few moments later, the child called out, “Mom, come and shut the door.” Without hesitating, the mother went back to the house and shut the door, before coming back to finish our conversation.
Later, while driving home, I reflected on how natural it was for the mother to do for the child what the child could have done for themself. I remembered doing many such things for my own daughters. Sometimes it was because I wanted it done quickly or because I did not want to deal with fussiness over their being asked to help.
This changed when a fellow parent said, “Maybe our job isn’t to do for them, but instead to turn over more and more of their care to them.” “In other words,” she continued, “Don’t do for our children what they can do for themselves.”
Eventually our children need to know how to budget, feed themselves, care for homes, manage time, build healthy relationships just to name a few. Independence and skill come in small steps which we allow and encourage our children to take and learn from.
What tasks can your child do right now? Can they pick out and put on their clothes? Can they pour cereal and milk into a bowl? Can they help with dishes? Brush their teeth? Make their bed? Decide between a shower or a bath? Put their toys away? What can they do to help the family? Children with special needs may have different tasks which they can or cannot do. Their leaving may look different as they may always need more from us.
What can you let your child do today to prepare them to leave? Today I have a phone call with my daughter who lives 2,763 miles away and I can’t wait.