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.