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A Decade of Lessons in Parenting


Lesson #5: Don't Help Too Much

You'll want to, especially since it's maddening to let kids puzzle things out themselves. When we're late, and Thad has his tongue between his lips and his brow furrowed and I know I could zip his jacket for him in three seconds, it's nearly impossible to refrain. But I must. Otherwise, I risk repeating the mistakes I made with Zander—who will probably be happy to have me cut his meat for him till he goes to college.

Behind my back, Zander is much more competent than he lets on. At sleepaway camp, for instance, he manages not only to cut his meat but also to wash his hair, keep track of his tennis racket, set his alarm clock, and apply sunscreen and bug spray as needed. But at home, he chooses the path of least resistance—why bother to pour your own milk if some sucker (me!) will do it for you?

I was thrown for a loop when Thad, who's more interested in mimicking his brother than enslaving his mother, came along. He learned to dress himself and wash his hands and so forth several years before I'd trusted Zander with similar tasks, which certainly made my life a lot easier.

But if you want self-sufficient kids, you'll need to be patient: Grit your teeth and let them screw things up a few times as part of the learning process. If it's not a life-or-death matter, who cares that their shoes are tied all funky or the sweatshirt is on inside out? In the long run, their independence is your freedom.