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Helping Hands or Child Labor? Arming Your Kids With Independence and Responsibility

Written by Ashli Brehm

The scene: A dark house. Saturday morning. 7 am. The clock in the bunk bed room has just turned to green. And two boys come bounding down the stairs and force their little paws around their parents’ door knob. And so the day begins. Dad gets out of bed. He gets breakfast going while the boys pick a toy or a show and mom {generally} hits the pseudo-snooze button for just those few extra moments {er, half hour.} of shuteye before the energy of two bouncing boys takes over her world. And this works. Because, you see, the boys are now four and a half and just past two. They are little, capable people who don’t always require man-to-man defense.

Our boys are at the ages where they are developing autonomy. And independence. And learning responsibility. So much so that two Saturdays ago, they did their entire morning wake up and left us in deep slumber. And while it was absolutely beautiful sleeping in until 8 am, I didn’t exactly shout it from the rooftops of Facebook or my blog because I momentarily found myself wondering what others would think of this scenario. Of our children, awake and sitting in front of the TV watching Princess and the Popstar, in the living room unattended, while we slept. And then I realized how well-rested both the Mr. and I were and the guilt washed away.

Because it truly is a bit of a gift when, after doing each and every little and big thing from the day they enter your world, your children can and do do. On their own.

Sometimes, their independence and gumption can present as a challenge or add to mommy madness, as each little one learns their way around the barn. Our two year old prefers to fill his own cup at the refrigerator which provides an arm workout for me, wiping up the puddles after 80% of the attempts. We expect our four year old to pick out his own clothes, get dressed and get the toothbrushes prepped for brushing, which results in sometimes navy pants paired with black shirts, on occasion, backwards pants and at times, toothpaste shmooshed on the countertop. And our two year believes he’s the next Top Chef in Training, playing sous chef while we prep breakfast, lunch and dinner {and anything else you could possibly find to do in the kitchen}.

In some of those times, we have to practice a whole lot of patience {that, if I’m being honest, I don’t really always have…or rather ever have} and tell ourselves that, in the longrun, much practice will make perfect.

Because after all, there are the many ways their independence and ability to help a momma out make a huge difference in the day… whether it be by grabbing a clean diaper or throwing away a used one, grabbing their shoes and socks before we head out the door, assisting with cleaning projects by dusting and “vacuuming” and of course, entertaining one another while I, after four years, go to the bathroom with the door closed, alone. It is in these moments of witnessing them as little helpers and doers that I am thankful that we don’t do everything for them in every moment.

But lately I’ve noticed that we probably allow for, encourage and at times, even expect, our two year old to be much more independent and capable at his age than we ever did his brother, simply because he happily wants to mirror our other little man. And then, when I really think on it, I’m not completely sure if the things we expect of our four year old are, indeed, age appropriate {cleaning up his plate post-dinner, cleaning up his room before bed, MANNERS.MANNERS.MANNERS. and remembering his backpack for pre-school} or if our demands are too great. How do you teach responsibility without teaching in every single moment? I mean, I’ve seen the lists on Pinterest with the 643 things your child should know how to do by the time they are {INSERT AGE HERE}, but those lists could not have been created by people who actually have children. I’m not quite sure how actual parents would find time to keep tabs on a checklist including every single skill or learned behavior of their child at every age while also parenting, loving, enjoying and living the real moments. Unless I start chasing them around with a checklist. And a pencil.

If I could only find the manual that they gave us at the hospital for how to raise our children, I think I’d be set. But until then, I think I will continue to question at which times our expectations are too high, in which moments we are not giving our kids enough credit to do things they are capable of doing and of course, where is that magical sweet spot where we’re doing everything exactly the way it should be done to raise well-adjusted, well-mannered, responsible, awesome children that will function fabulously as someday-adults.

So what’s the balance? How do you determine what you expect your kids to do by certain ages and what do you think is simply for the birds? Where do you draw the line between child labor and readying them for their next steps? Do you think it is all taught or do you think some children are just naturally more responsible than others?

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Editor’s Note:  Welcome to the team, Ashli!  Find more from Ashli over on her fantastic blog at babyonthebrehm.blogspot.com

About the author

Ashli Brehm

Ashli Brehm = Thirtysomething. Nebraska gal. Life blogger. Husker fan. Creative writer. Phi Mu sister. Breast cancer survivor. Boymom. Premie carrier. Happy wife. Gilmore Girls fanatic. Amos Lee listener. Coffee & La Croix drinker. Sarcasm user. Jesus follower. Slipper wearer. Funlover. Candle smeller. Yoga doer. Pinterest failer. Anne Lamott reader. Tribe member. Goodness believer. Life enthusiast.

Follow me at http://babyonthebrehm.com/

2 Comments

  • Yay! Welcome to HVFH Ashli! I knew you’d be the most perfect addition!

    My little guy is a smidge too young for actual responsibility, but I love seeing how much he’ll be capable of in just a short while. He’s already helping sweep and feed the dog.

    I think allowing them to blossom and accept more responsibility as the grow is one of the greatest challenges of parenthood. How to let them take on enough that they learn to be independent will be hardest for me because I’ll either want to do it better, faster, etc.

    • Chaaron- Thank you so much for the welcome and the great recommendation! So glad to be here. I think that often I don’t allow them to do some of the things they are capable of because I am in a hurry, too. I would love to say I’ll get better at that but maybe that’s simply my mommy MO.