By Guest Blogger Nancy Tuohy, Director of Advancement at Summit School, and mother of two
The book, How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims, is one of the most useful parenting books on the market today. Summit School‘s fall book club chose this book and it is well worth the read. The author asks us about our children, “Would you rather always be there for them, or have confidence that they can do for themselves when they leave home, and in that unwelcome future time when you’re gone?” As I reflect on what I want for my children and my role in getting them there, I’m using 2018 as a year to teach life skills.
Julie Lythcott-Haims served as dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising at Stanford University. She has spoken and written widely on the phenomenon of helicopter parenting. A New York Times book review says: “Lythcott-Haims’s central message remains worthwhile: When parents laugh and enjoy the moment but also teach the satisfaction of hard work, when they listen closely but also give their children space to become who they are, they wind up with kids who know how to work hard, solve problems and savor the moment, too.” Lythcott also has a terrific Ted Talk: How To Raise Successful Kids – without Over-parenting.
Without realizing it, we do far more for our children in the realm of life skills than any generation before us. We make beds so they look nice. We do everyone’s laundry. We cook all the meals. As a result, kids may not even know how to do these things with reasonable skill until they are almost adults and ready to leave home. Lythcott-Haims says, “…children who are otherwise healthy and developing normally used to develop these skills naturally in the normal course of childhood.” Childhood! Not high school! I’m determined that 2018 will be a year of mastery for my young kids.
What exactly might these life skills be? And what age is appropriate to expect mastery? Lythcott-Haims says younger children from ages 6 to 7 should be able to independently:
~ Mix, stir, and cut with a dull knife
~ Make a basic meal, such as a sandwich
~ Wash dishes
~ Use basic household cleaners safely
~ Make a bed without assistance
Children from ages 8 to 9 should be able to independently:
~ Fold their clothes
~ Learn simple sewing
~ Read a recipe and prepare a simple meal
~ Take out the trash
~ Take written phone messages
~ Count and make change
Between ages 10 and 13, a child should know how to independently:
~ Stay home alone
~ Go to the store and make purchases by himself
~ Change her bed sheets, wash them, dry them, fold them, and put them away
~ Use the oven to broil and bake
~ Iron clothes
~ Mow the lawn
~ Use basic hand tools
After reading this, I felt enormous guilt that I hadn’t been actively and regularly teaching these skills, much less allowing my kids to even try some of them! And why? Because it is often easier for me just to do them. It’s faster, neater, and looks better. But I’m stepping away in 2018 and slowing down. Life skills develop over time and conversation and practice. It’s necessarily slow and messy–but can also bring much joy and connection.
There is a saying, “perfect is the enemy of good.” And I admit to being a perfectionist. I like a neat house. I like all of my dinner plates lined up in the back row of the dishwasher and all salad plates in the front. I like all fitted sheets folded with the ends tucked in together. And, true confession, I like ironing! I have no idea how I learned these things but I do know my kids need to learn by doing them by themselves. It won’t be perfect but it may end up being good.
In effect my 2018 resolutions are two-fold: I’ll have to give up some of my perfectionism as well as teach life skills. I’ll have to sit back and keep quiet as they learn, make a mess, fail, try again, and again, and again. My end goal of parenting is to launch an adult into the world and I’m starting 2018 with a resolution that will make all of us better.
*Sponsored by Summit School, Photo credit: Martin Tucker