- Written by John Brauer
It is easy in the short run to lose sight of the primary goal of a parent. We focus on the immediate issues of teaching right from wrong, control, getting to appointments and events on time, getting the groceries purchased and minimizing household turmoil, and in the process of addressing all of these needs, we forget that our primary job is to put ourselves out of a job.
Essentially, as parents we have 18 years to teach a child to become a self sufficient, fully functioning, contributing adult member of society. And given the age of our children when we realize this, that does not give us much time to complete the task. In order to efficiently put ourselves out of work, it is important that we keep this job in mind as we go through the day to day interactions with our children, and continue to ask ourselves on a regular basis, "What do I need my child to learn from this interaction?" The corollary to this question of course is "What is my child learning from the way that I have been doing things?"
This focus is an extremely effective means of arriving at effective and useful responses to many of the situations which arise in the course of child rearing, and is a common thread in many of the articles found on this site. The focus of effective parenting is education, and the most effective interventions and approaches are those which underscore a useful and appropriate bit of learning.
Unfortunately, many of the interactions which teach well are somewhat inconvenient in the moment. It is certainly quicker (and more hygienic) for me to do the dishes instead of getting an 8 year old to learn, but when does the 8 year old learn to do so? I can do a better job of laundry, or vacuuming, of weeding and of most other tasks if I do it myself or micro manage the child's efforts, but then the child does not learn, and over the long haul, I am left with a developmentally diminished adult at the end of the parenting process (which then doesn't end for a long time past 18 years).
One of the easiest ways to address this issue, is to keep in mind a simple rule: Do not routinely do for your child what the child can do for itself. While certainly one can do a favor for a child on occasion as a part of being polite and sociable, it is important to beware of doing so to an extent that the child either does not develop abilities, or becomes "entitled" in his view of your relationship. It is also important to recognize that when we make a pattern of assisting children out of tight spots, one of the lessons which we inadvertently teach is inadequacy. The child often arrives at the conclusion that the reason why mom and dad assist the child so much is that they believe that the child is unable to do for himself. this is a damaging revelation, and is best addressed by showing patient confidence that the child is capable and adequate; even if this patience makes us late for work on occasion. This of course does not mean that we should abandon or neglect children; support in their efforts is crucial. Support however, does not mean that we should do the problem solving for them, or perform tasks for them to save them the difficulty (and reward) of doing them on their own. Whether the issue is homework extracurricular activities (Pinewood Derby cars or hobby efforts), the reward and the learning lie in mastering the difficult, and we do the children no favors by leaving them with only the easy tasks.
A similar reasoning is seen in the solutions offered in other articles on this site, such as the Allowance and Homework articles. The more pervasively we recognize the importance of this approach, the better off our children will be, and the more effective they will be as adults.