As a mother, I strive to find balance on that delicate tightrope of demonstrating loving compassion and “tough love.” I’m there for my kids, but I’m also not a doormat, challenging them to take responsibility, yet not “Tiger Mothering”( Amy Chua, Yale Law Professor and author of the 2011 Memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.)
But the other day, a friend of mine said something that resonated with me, making me realize that my so-called “tough love” could use a good more muscle. Here’s what she shared:
“*Brent is 20 years old. Everything is done for him. We’re lucky enough to afford a housekeeper, and I do everything else domestic-wise. So today I thought, ‘It’ll be good for him to do something other than learn virtually at home. I’ll ask him to take out the trash.’ But guess what? He couldn’t even do that. He didn’t know what to do with wrapping the trash up. I had to literally show him how to tie the bag. He watched me do it and said it will still confusing. The light dawned on him when I told him it was like tying shoes.”
Brent is a bright young man who maintains excellent grades at a respected university. He is witty, respectful and kind. His SAT score and GPA opened several academic doors at prestigious colleges. And yet, tying a trash bag was a genuine conundrum for our scholar.
I recall sitting at my son’s martial arts class when he was in the third grade. A mom sat beside me as we watched our kids through the clear class that separated us from our pre-pubescent ninjas-in-training. That day, her son had forgotten the required belt for class; mine had left the required black pants. Their lack of preparation for class immediately bonded us.
“Honestly, I try. I try to let him fail, but it’s just easier if I do it all. I don’t have the patience. I work at all day at my firm. I’m tired by the time I get home. If I want something done, I do it myself.”
That was 9 years ago. Today, both of our sweet ninja warriors are young men, a little over 6 months away from graduating high school. They drive cars, they shave, they are excelling in their Advanced Placement courses.
And yet…I think back to that moment in the martial arts class and wonder if I often took the easier road with the short-term benefits. I work full time and still find it “easier” to cook, clean, bake, wash, dry and fold for my teenagers.
I’m trying to change my ways, focusing on the long term gain these days. There’s still time before the older one heads to college, still time before the younger one enters high school.
I’m a work in progress: yesterday, I gave my sons eggs, sliced cantaloupe and a warm tortilla purposely on the side just to see what they would do without a fork. That’s right, a full plate of food with eggs needing to go in that tortilla but no fork nearby. They needed to actually get up from the table to get their respective forks.
They ate with their hands…
But there IS progress:
Both have learned to soak bowls that once contained oatmeal and glasses that once held smoothies.
One regularly “squeegies” the shower after use.
Both know to empty their trash cans on Sunday afternoons.
Progress! Both know how to cook basic things now.
Work-in-progress: I’ll leave folded clean laundry outside their door; they merely walk around it like a benign obstacle course.
I prefer the “pain” of taking time out to teach them these basic life responsibilities/skills rather than the long-term suffering waiting for a potential life partner/spouse.
Just some food for thought to all parents out there. We owe our kids a domestic education—for themselves and their future family.