Yesterday I crouched down to my littlest child’s level and instead of looking at him, I looked up.  I could see the kitchen cupboards (and all the food spots on them from various spillages– try to ignore those), I could see the tap and the steam rising from the boiling kettle.  I couldn’t actually see what was on the kitchen surfaces, whatever his sister was stirring in a bowl, and another sister might have been doing something with a pen and paper but I couldn’t quite see what it was.  I couldn’t even see out the window!  Imagine being closed out of a world that everyone else inhabits… imagine being 2.

I spend a lot of my day trying to put myself in my childrens’ shoes.  I do it figuratively, imaginatively.  And I think I usually do a pretty good job of it.  However when I physically got down at his height and tried to be part of what everyone else was doing, I am ashamed to say that I was actually shocked!  Shocked, and filled with compassion for him.

So then my thoughts moved on, and I began to notice how many times a day my children have to make a request.  The girls have to ask for breakfast, or ask whether they’re allowed to make something for themselves.  They have to ask for a snack, ask to have a friend over after school, ask if they have something specific they want to do this weekend.  When we go to a shop, they are constantly asking whether they can have something.  I began to notice my feelings and to tap into the irritation I felt in constantly hearing their demands.  As sometimes happens, my own feelings mirrored theirs, and I wondered whether they are actually irritated too in having to ask for things all the time.

I love my autonomy.  I can come downstairs, make whatever I’d like to eat, go to a shop, buy something if I have the money, decide that I want to pop into a friend’s house and have a cuppa, and then it’s up to me what I do on the weekend.  I like to think that I make compromises for the children and for other people, but in contrast to the way my children live, I have a high degree of autonomy and they have very little.

Imagine my chagrin when I read the following words last night in a book I have been neglecting and am now creeping my way through before sleep takes me each night (Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids by Hart and Kindle-Hodson):

There are several reasons parents think and do for kids rather than give kids choices about how to think and do for themselves.  One reason is that they want to see things done in a certain way– neatly, efficiently and precisely.  Another reason is that it takes more time and patience to let kids do things for themselves.  Rushed and harried the way most parents are these days, they find it easier and quicker to just take responsibility and do whatever needs to be done.

Painful to admit it, but yes that’s me.  I admit that it’s easier for me to pour the cereal in the morning because the last time I let them do it themselves I spent the day walking around on it, crunching on the hard floor like walking over a shingle beach.  I want to reduce the clean-up, make it easier for me, and so I take the easiest option in the short term and I do it for them.

“I can do it myself!”  When children say these words most people say that they’re headstrong or an “independent Annie.”  But maybe they’re just being truthful– they can do it.  Today I want to try to let them.




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2 thoughts on “May I please have…?

  • 03/11/2011 at 6:07 pm

    You are so right! I once did that when I was down on the floor cleaning something up (which I find myself doing more amd more!), and I looked up and it struck me also how little you can see from down there, and what a strange perspective even my tall 3 year old has on the world. I think everyone should do this! Reading your blog today also made me reflect on the prolong outbursts and hysterics we are experiencing at the moment from him about not wanting to go or do what I want to do. I find it is more likely to happen if I have not talked to him previously about the plans for the day enough! You are right – I think sometimes we forget what it is like to be told all the time what we are doing! I like to think I do discuss things with him, and try to include him in planning etc, but sometimes this slips and sometimes he just disagrees!! At least I suppose in the fact it bothers him so means he has not given up and given in to the ineviability of a lack of autonomy that comes with being only 3 in a grown up world. Or is that just me consoling myself and finding a way to make me feel better about the outbursts!!!

    • 03/11/2011 at 8:18 pm

      Hi Charlotte,
      I really appreciate these comments and have a lot of personal sympathy with what you’re saying. We all like to be consulted about the day’s plans– so why do we so easily forget to talk with our children about our plans and ask their opinions? As dependence gives way to independence, it can be a dance of two-steps-forward-one-step-back as we try to work out how firmly we should be holding the reins. This balance is unique in every family and every relationship, and we learn by doing. Go easy on yourself– sometimes hindsight is 20:20!
      Thank you again for taking the time to add your thoughtful comments. I do really appreciate it.

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