“Mommy can I help?” These are the words I hear from my three-year-old almost daily. As preschoolers, they always want to help. But “help” is a loose interpretation isn’t it? When a little person tries to pour her own drink or help fold the clothes, help is the last thing it feels like. At best, it will take an eternity. At worst, it will make more mess and more work.
I admit that I have often been that mom who replies, “Not this time; let Mommy do it.” Especially when we are trying to get ourselves out the door. Waiting for a three-year-old to put on her own shoes at that moment is its own kind of torture. I know that if we don’t leave in the next 60 seconds we will be late. Patience is at a minimum.
But let’s be honest. Things don’t always have to be that rushed do they? Sometimes it’s not that we are late but rather impatient. We have a never ending to-do list, and anything that makes our day take longer can really ramp up our frustration. Every mom has felt that self-imposed pressure. I am possibly at the top of the list.
Sometimes though, I remember my purpose. I remember that laundry and errands, practices and parties are all part of the journey, but they aren’t the goal. Because as much time as we spend on those things, obsess over those things and even get buried in those things, they aren’t essential to our purpose in raising children.
What is essential is teaching them how to do things. How to be independent. By the time they leave my house, they need to know how to prepare a meal. They need to know how to run a load of laundry, make a bed and cut the grass. They need to know how to manage a checking account, when to get an oil change and how to navigate the DMV. They need life skills. And life skills aren’t taught in school. They are taught at home. Or at least they should be.
This is where my quest for efficiency has to give way to my greater purpose. Life skills are taught in the milieu of life. In the day-to-day moments that we just want to get through. These are the important moments that we can’t pass up. It happens we are making breakfast and someone wants to stir. It happens on Saturdays, when it’s time to clean the cars and work in the yard.
With my older kids, we don’t hear “Mommy can I help” nearly as much as we used to. My middle schooler lets out a Chewbakka-inspired moan every time we mention pitching in with housework. My third grader all of a sudden needs to use the bathroom, get a drink, finish his homework, and exercise the dog any time we ask for help. His efforts in avoidance are truly commendable. But we don’t give in. Everyone contributes to the mess in the home, which means everyone contributes to the work.
Even with older kids, there is a measure of efficiency sacrificed when the kids are involved. My husband and I can, naturally, work circles around the kids. But again, that’s not the point. And one of the surprising things that we find is that even with the groans and sighs and dragging of feet, once we get the kids actively involved, they enjoy it. Okay, maybe “enjoy” is a strong word. But they do become engaged in the family dynamic of shared tasks, and we laugh and talk during the work (a blessing on its own). Once we are done, there is always reward in the form of earned playtime or maybe money for a job very well done. They do enjoy that part.
But the most important part is that they are learning and growing. They will know that they are capable of using a washing machine so that they can have clean underwear, even if I’m not around. They will be able to prepare themselves a meal, preventing them from spending their entire twenties eating Taco Bell. They will also know before they are married that wives aren’t maids (This will go over much better if I teach it to them ahead of time).
What we are doing is sacrificing efficiency in the moment for the long-term goal of raising children to become adults. It can be so hard in the daily routine to remember that this parenting thing is a marathon, not a sprint. By keeping our eyes on the finish line, we can get there, but we have to remain goal-oriented. And that goal is to raise adults, not children. When we are done, if they can leave our home as capable, confident adults, we will know that we have done our job well.