Thursday, November 13, 2014

It's Sink or Swim Time

An article in the Huffington Post (read it here) spurred me to put my fingers to the keys and post after a too long absence from blogging. The article, entitled Are We Raising A Generation of Helpless Kids?, has been a topic of frequent conversation here lately between Daddy-O and I. In the past few years we have had more moments of burying our faces in our hands and sighing "Where did we screw up? How did (insert minion's name here) become a slacker?!"

Don't misunderstand me, our minions aren't total incorrigible, lazy, unmotivated, feeling entitled to whatever they desire children. The problem we are working to correct is that with five children, ranging in age from seventeen to nine, it seems like there is always one behaving like an incorrigible, lazy, unmotivated, feeling entitled to whatever they desire child. And when that behavior shows itself we feel like we have failed that child. 

We realized that saving them too often when they were younger didn't help them, it hurt them. In our quest to make sure they were happy, stress free and successful we stole pieces of their independence and failed to teach them that every choice has a consequence and a person must accept and live with the ultimate outcome of their decisions. Every time one of us drove like a bat out of Hell to take a forgotten item to school, every time we stayed up until o'dark thirty finishing a project while they slept, we saved them from facing the natural consequence of their actions. That was poor parenting!

It is a thousand times harder to change bad habits in ourselves and our children after years of giving in to them, but it is worth it. Do I want my twenty five year old calling and asking  me to bring his briefcase to work because he forgot it? NO! Do I want to have my thirty year old child at my house napping while I finish up his/her work project? NO!

As horrible as it sounds, we have adopted a sink or swim, your choice your consequence attitude over the past two years. It's hard, no doubt. When bedtime comes and there is unfinished homework I feel nauseous. I have to force myself not to give them the answers quickly or do it for them. I have to remind myself that the goal isn't an 'A' in math but to raise a responsible, independent, motivated adult who can function in the world and contribute positively to society.

For those wondering what we have done to correct our mistakes, I'll give you a few pointers.

  • We charge a fee for bringing forgotten items to school/sports practice. The fee is the current taxi rate. Every minion gets one freebie - because hey, everyone forgets something sometime - but after that a forgotten library book delivery is $1.75 per mile. The choice is theirs, pay the fee or accept the consequence of not getting a new library book that week.
  •  Reminders are given to complete homework twice. We will help a minion understand the material, provide the resources for the assignment, but we won't give the answers or do the work for them. My childrens' school projects now arrive in the classroom LOOKING like they did them themselves. If a minion chooses to ignore the reminders and not do their work they live with the natural consequence of their choice: missed recess, loss of privileges at home and at school. We no longer force homework to be done, but we do enforce consequences for unfinished work. 
  • Needs are always provided for, wants are earned or bought with money earned through work. There is not an endless supply of money available in this home, the money tree in the backyard never grew, the odds are pretty high those two things will remain constant for our minions' entire lives. It is far better to learn the relationship between money and work at nine than it is at forty.....

Will we ever be nominated for Parents of the Year? I seriously doubt it. Will we have to explain why homework or projects are incomplete to teachers sometimes? Yes, I just did that exact thing yesterday! Will we spend many hours over the next decade seeing a sad, pouty face because we refused to buy something a minion wanted? Hell yes. When our minions are leaving the nest and forging their path in the adult world will they be responsible, motivated, independent and proud of themselves for their accomplishments? That's the plan, and we hope and pray we give them the tools for that.