It’s become a refrain: “Mom, I want to do it all. By. My. Self.” Each syllable is distinctly pronounced. There’s determination in their voice… but dread in my heart.
My children are 3 and 4 respectively, so I hear “do it all by myself” approximately 342 times a day — from each child. There are two possible outcomes: The first is that the child will accomplish whatever it is they were trying to do all by themselves, whether it’s put the lid on their cup, tie their shoes, or make a peanut butter sandwich. They will rejoice in their newfound abilities, and we will all do a dance of joy for their accomplishment.
Or they will try and try and get frustrated and scream and cry and spill their cup of milk or hurl their shoe at the floor or vow to never eat peanut butter again.
Either scenario is frustrating for parents because it means we have to watch our child struggle, which hurts our hearts. We never want to see them experiencing any kind of pain, so we often want to go with our first parental instinct, which is to save them.
Saving them in these situations means rushing in and doing it for them. It seems like the noble and loving thing to do — to rescue them from frustration — but in reality, it’s inadvertently sending them the wrong message.
Messages like, “I can do it better than you,” or, “You can’t do it so I have to.”
Now I know that’s not the intent of any parent. We don’t ever want to teach them a lesson like that, but unfortunately, that’s what we do when we swoop in. We’re showing them that what they’re trying to do is impossible for them, so we — as their parents — have to do it for them because they are incapable.
As frustrating and saddening as it can be to watch our children struggle with a new skill, it’s vital for us to step back and let them work it out on their own. It teaches them autonomy. It teaches them how to problem solve. It teaches them to practice and to persevere in everything they want to do.
We want them to learn to go after their goals and their dreams. We want them to feel empowered. However, in order for them to step up to the challenges of life, we as parents must take a step back.
One day it’s making a peanut butter sandwich, but tomorrow it’s going to be cooking breakfast, or filling out a job application, or filing their own taxes.
They have to learn to do these things by themselves for themselves. It breaks our heart, it causes us to pull our hair out or stay up late worrying about them, but when we allow our children to be independent at an early age, we are also paving the way for their own independence down the road when they’re adult members of society.
We can’t always be there for our children, but we can teach them to take care of themselves. We can embolden them. We can ensure that when they go out into the world, they will succeed.
As irritating as it is to wait 30 minutes for your 4-year-old to tie her shoes before you leave for the store, remember the way her eyes light up when she exclaims, “I did it!” That should make any annoyance fade away. And then give yourself a pat on the back because you’re doing a great job raising an self-reliant kid.