Sometimes I think my children think I’m their humble servant. I sit down to start work on a blog post or edit photos or cook dinner or read a book and I hear “Mama? Can I have a drink?” “Mama! Can I have a glass of milk?” “Mama, can I have a snack?” I won’t lie. All I want to say back to them is “I don’t know. Can you?”

I mean seriously. What did I do to make these children think I’m going to wait on them hand and foot and do everything for them?

Oh right.

I know what I did.

I waited on them hand and foot and did everything for them. For years.

I created these little, self-entitled monsters and now I need to disassemble them and gently rebuild them. Recently they’ve been facing a somewhat rude awakening as I’ve been telling them “You can get your own . . . ” fill in the blank of whatever they are asking for. I want them to understand that to receive kindness we need to give it and also, equally important, they need to one day be self-reliant.

What waiting on my children all the time has done is created little humans who think they are the center of the universe and who, if I don’t step in, might be incapable of taking care of themselves when they become adults. If I’m not careful I will send children out onto the world who lack basic skills to care for themselves or anyone else and will be, quite frankly, lazy. They are close to that already. So, I decided that it’s time to break the cycle.

One day recently my son was sitting on the couch, playing Minecraft for much longer than he should have been when he asked me to get him a glass of milk from the kitchen. I was in the middle of cooking dinner so I let him know he could get his own milk. “For goodness sake, your leg muscles are going to atrophy,” I told him.

“What’s atrophy even mean?” he asked.

“It’s what all our brains are doing thanks to the internet, streaming services, and social media,” I thought to myself, but what I said to him was, “Get a dictionary and look it up!”

That’s a lie. What I actually did was tell him what it meant. I mean, come on! I didn’t even make him look it up on his own and if I had, he probably would have asked me “What’s a dictionary?”

This is how bad it is now. Many of us parents—not all, of course—have become so accustomed to doing it all for our children it is now a reflex for us. I understand that until our children are a certain age, we do things for them because we know we can do it quicker and with less mess. That’s why we don’t often ask our children to help us cook, clean, sit a table, or pour their own juice.

We are aware that juice will be spilled, dishes might be broken and trash bags might be split and, honestly, we don’t want to add “clean up the child’s mess” to our already long list.

What we need to realize, though, is that in our desire to avoid our own inconvenience, we are creating a generation of lazy, spoiled brats, who one day will be incapable of handling life because we never taught them basic life skills.

I realize how overdramatic it sounds to say getting your child a glass of milk will make him a spoiled and incapable adult and that isn’t what I’m really saying, but some parents (me) may start small and let it snowball out of control. It eventually becomes second nature to do it all for them. At the same time, we can’t let the pendulum swing too far the other way and never be kind and get our children snacks when they ask for them. There needs to be a balance between letting them know you love them and doing everything for them. It’s important to show them acts of service should be appreciated by them, as well as shown by them.

I know letting kids know they can do things on their own can be a tightrope walk at times, especially if you have young children and when you ask them to hand you something, they start telling you things like “get it yourself” like my 4-year-old daughter has. I’ve had to find gentler ways to let them know they are capable of waiting on themselves and taking on more responsibility.

Though we parents may want to avoid the frustration that accompanies letting our children do things on their own, it will serve our children and society as a whole, better in the long run.

Lisa R. Howeler

As a writer, former newspaper reporter and photographer, Lisa R. Howeler writes a little bit about everything on her blog Boondock Ramblings. She's a wife and a mother and enjoys a good John Wayne movie and a cozy Jan Karon book. She's also a freelance writer and photographer who is a contributor to various stock agencies, including Lightstock and Alamy. Her photography work focuses on documentary and photojournalism.