The other day I told you how I took Number 3 to his Zones practice.
There were about 40 kids and just as many parents there.
Some of the kids who were there have been to this meet already, so it’s not all that scary or intimidating. But for other kids, it’s their first time.
It’s also not just their first time at a big meet like this, but it’s their first time away from their parents for an extended period of time.
In order to facilitate and encourage team bonding, swimmers’ parents are not allowed to stay at the same hotel as the swimmers. So even if you go to watch your kid swim, you have pretty much zero contact with them.
And so while the kids are nervous, the parents are equally nervous. Maybe even more nervous.
All the parents of these swimmers will be putting their kids on the bus early on Wednesday morning, and they won’t return until late Sunday afternoon.
Four days and nights away from your parents and family (or your kid) with complete strangers is a big deal, especially for a ten-year-old.
I won’t lie. I’m definitely a little nervous. But I know he’s in good hands and I know this is going to be a huge opportunity for growth for him.
I also know that if there’s one thing I’ve done, it’s that I’ve given him at least some tools to help him be independent.
There were lots of nervous parents at this meeting, asking the woman in charge all sorts of questions (myself included).
And one mom was extremely concerned about how her son would function because he’s never had to unpack his own swim bag.
She was positive he’d leave everything shoved in his bag and by the last day of the meet, he’d have a bunch of moldy and mildewed towels and clothing in his bag.
She might be right.
And in that moment, I felt a little bit of relief.
Because earlier that morning, I had told Number 6 to make sure her swim bag was packed up for practice before she left for school.
And just as she has for every other practice since September, she packed up her swim bag.
She is six years old.
Number 3 (who is ten) and Number 4 (who is nine) have been packing up their own swim bags ever since they joined the swim team three years ago.
While I’m a little worried about Number 3 being ten years old and having to navigate four days without any help from me or my husband, at least I know he can take care of his own shit.
He may not be able to order himself a cheeseburger, but having to make sure he has all of his swim stuff packed up won’t be something I have to worry about while he is gone.
And he won’t have to worry about it either.
But that other mom whose kid has never packed or unpacked his swim bag?
On top of the normal worrying just because your kid is going to be totally out of your care and control for four days, they are both going to have to worry about him taking responsibility for something he’s never ever had to do before.
Something he’s definitely capable of doing, but something he’s never been made to do.
That’s seriously stressful! And what a shame that this kid is going to have to add that onto the list of things that will be foreign to him when he goes away on his own for the first time ever.
I get it.
I get why people don’t require their kids to take responsibility for their belongings and responsibilities at a young age.
I know that for some of us, it feels good to be needed.
I also know that teaching your kid how to keep track of his or her stuff is, initially, kind of a pain in the ass.
But here’s the thing.
Teaching your kid to do almost anything is kind of a pain in the ass in the beginning.
Teaching your kid to sleep through the night is a pain in the ass.
Teaching your kid to take a crap in the toilet is a pain in the ass.
Teaching your kid to tie his or her shoes is a total pain in the ass.
Teaching your kid to read and hold a pencil and write and use scissors and ride a bike and whatever else is often a big fat pain in the ass in the beginning.
But we do all these things because we know these are skills our kids will need in order to grow up and be successful and productive human beings.
But so many of us struggle with that independence thing.
Whether it’s because we like feeling needed or we feel sorry for our kids or we just don’t want to deal with the painintheassiness of whatever it is they need to learn, we don’t do it.
But here is the other thing…
The longer you wait to teach your kid how to be responsible and independent, the more of a pain in the ass it becomes to teach them.
With each year that goes by, the degree of painintheassiness increases.
You are afraid your kid will forget something.
What if they get to the meet and they don’t have a towel??? What if they don’t have their goggles????
I have to make sure they have everything they need, or else —
Or else what?
You know what will happen if your kid has to pack his or her own bag and they forget something?
As long as you don’t bail them out and drive back home or buy them another of whatever the thing is that they forgot, there is a very good chance they won’t forget it the next time they have to pack up their bag.
This is where the painintheassiness part comes in.
There is a good chance your kid is gonna lose it if they don’t have all the things. He will cry. She will yell. He will throw some shit around. She will have the meltdown of all meltdowns. Enduring the freakouts and staying the course is tough that first time.
But the best way your kids will learn to be responsible is when they know it is up to them to do it!
If they have to miss recess because they forgot their homework, I bet you a whole bag of money they will not forget the homework too many more times.
But if you drop everything, drive the homework to school, and then yell at them when they get home and threaten them with losing a phone or whatever it is you threaten them with, you know what will happen?
One, you will be super pissed at your kid, and two, your kid will do the same thing again. Soon. And he or she will keep doing it until you either make them accountable or follow through with that threat of taking away their phone.
And now that you have taken the phone away, you will be even more pissed because while you may not have brought the homework back in to school, it has now become much more difficult for you to get in touch with your kid and that is extremely annoying and also an inconvenience to you. You have now made your life more difficult.
Initially it may be tough, but teaching your child to be independent will make your life easier.
Had you put your child in charge of homework, the consequence would have come from the teacher, and your child would have had to deal with it.
But my kid can’t get a zero on a homework assignment!
One zero on one assignment will not stop your child from going to college.
But bailing her out will stop her from being responsible.
And that might stop her from going to college.
So how do you start?
If this is totally foreign to you, or if your kids are young, start with something small and simple.
Your three-year-old hangs up his own jacket at preschool.
Make this his job at home.
At first there’s a decent chance, since he’s never been made to do this before, that he’s gonna tell you (in his three-year-old way) to go f*ck yourself.
Remember, teaching new things to your kids is a pain in the ass.
If your kids are older, the degree of painintheassiness will be much higher because the more years your kids have been expecting you to do shit for them, the harder it will be to undo that thought process and behavior.
Once they are hanging up their jackets, move on to emptying out lunch boxes, clearing dishes from the table, bringing dirty clothes to the laundry room, taking the recycling out, folding laundry, putting away clothes, emptying the dishwasher, making their own lunch, packing their own swim bags… Whatever.
For me, the ultimate goal is the Kevin McCallister test: if our family went on vacation, flew to France, and accidentally left one of the kids home alone, would he or she be able to feed, clothe, and entertain him/herself until we were able to get back home? (Bonus points if they are able to kick the ass of two incompetent intruders).
Obviously I don’t plan on leaving a kid behind while we go on vacation. (Well, maybe the thought has crossed my mind once or twice).
And clearly the amount of responsibility depends on the child’s age.
But your kids are capable of handling much more than you might imagine.
(If you don’t believe me, watch a couple episodes of Little House on the Prairie).
And when your child knows that he can take care of himself, it gives him a tremendous amount of confidence. And it gives you peace of mind.
Just because your kid doesn’t rely on you to make his lunch or pack his bag or empty out his swim bag, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t need you.
Your kids will always need your love and guidance and support and affection.
And when you aren’t constantly emptying their swim bags and cleaning up their rooms and putting away the laundry (that you also folded for them) and packing their lunch boxes, you’ll be in a much better position and state of mind to be able to give them all those things that they really need from you.