Sometimes we think we're helping our children when in fact we are impeding them.
A recent article I read describes the latest parenting trend. Mothers are hiring professional personal organizers to pack their kids up for summer camp. Their children can't go off without their 1000-thread count sheets. Some parents make sure that the professional packers include French milled soaps and scented candles. Others request that their child’s bedroom be recreated so that they can easily adapt when they settle in to their air conditioned bunk.
One organizer commented that it’s very stressful for mothers who send their son or daughter off for the very first time; they want to feel and touch the sheets to be sure of their softness. Parents end up paying these organizers $250 an hour; a well packed kid can run over $1000.
Some kids can't manage packing their own trunks. I recall those days of getting ready for camp. I would go through the camp list, take clothing out of closets and drawers, label and make piles for hours. My parents were available if I needed help. But in those days it was up to us to carry things in and out of our trunks, load our stuff, try to zip it all closed, and finally shlep it to the front hall. And at the end of the day we felt as if we accomplished something great.
It wasn't just packing a summer trunk. It was the knowledge that I was on the road to independence. I could do for myself. I would arrive to a bunkhouse far from home. There were new surroundings and faces, so much was unfamiliar and it was ok. While unpacking each item into my cubby I would recognize all the hours of hard work I had put in. I was given a feeling of satisfaction, an understanding that I had this ability to accomplish for myself. Although there were those tough days of bunk politics and losing color war, I never felt like giving up. Confidence had grown within along with responsibility.
If we want to raise a child who grows to become self-sufficient we must provide opportunities for that child to become self-reliant. We cannot be fearful of new surroundings. We cannot shield our children from hard work and eventual disappointments. There is no replacement for toiling over a project and seeing the results firsthand. There are no shortcuts when it comes to developing character. Integrity, diligence, and responsibility are all traits intertwined with striving and accomplishing. We are selling a whole generation of children short when we do not hold them accountable for even the simplest tasks.
Many parents have forgotten that we are required to toil as well.
I recently spoke to a couple who are preparing for their son’s bar mitzvah. They told me that they had spent hours in meetings with event planners. They wanted their son’s bar mitzvah party to be over the top, making sure that the night would be the best that money could buy. “This would be a sure way for our son to know that we love him,” they explained to me.
“You are equating things with love,” I said. “Whenever I give a parenting class and ask for the happiest childhood memories that come to mind, no one has ever described a thing they had been given. It is always remembering Sundays with cousins by grandma’s house, biking with daddy, story time with mommy, or summer days at the beach with parents and siblings that come to mind. All the toys, gifts and money spent fade away. Our children need us to stop hiring others and start spending time together as a family.”
There are days we feel depleted. But we do it because we love.
It may be difficult to set aside our stress and listen to our children with both hearts and minds. There are days we want to scream. There are nights we do not believe that we can sing bedtime lullabies, sit over math problems, and give one more good night kiss. We are simply depleted. But we do it because we love. And these are the moments that build an unshakeable bond between parents and children. These are the moments that our children come to understand as the definition of love.
When we teach our children that we believe in their ability to rise, to accomplish, to strive, we give them the greatest tools for life. But we cannot transmit this lesson by having others step in for them. They must be given hands-on opportunities as they grow.
When our children see us parent lovingly through our very own pressures they come to understand that despite challenges, we work hard to create strong homes. We do this not by hiring others to make a memorable event. It is the day to day interactions – the power of our smile, the gentle words, and the time we take to listen that transforms a child from helpless and weak to helpful and strong. We are a constant steady presence and there is no one who can take our place.