This time I don’t want to talk about the responsibility that comes with having children. I want to talk about the responsibilities our children have. Or maybe should have.
For the past year or so my son has been really moody. Sometimes aggressive, sometimes depressed a little. We were fighting so much that we asked the preschool to switch from him going only in the afternoon to almost the whole day. (Yeah, that’s right, I put my son in daycare because we (him and me) were fighting so much.) When I approached his teacher, telling about my difficulties and the constant power struggle in our house, she said that she didn’t see any of it in school. And that maybe it had to do with him being around adults all the time. At home he is always the weak one, the little one, and the one who isn’t allowed to decide on his own. So I’ve been thinking about ways to make him feel more independent.
The other thing I have been thinking constantly about is how many of my students seem to be incapable – and unwilling – of doing anything on their own. It often seems to me that their parents still hold their hands at an age where they should be almost grown-up. And I think that this makes the students (and maybe the parents too) unhappier and doesn’t help building self-esteem
So maybe our children need more responsibility. I’m not talking about child labour here. I’m talking about having to stand up for the consequences of their own actions. Since most of my students come from rather privileged families, I have seen children sent to boarding school when they were about to fail a grade. I have seen parents doing homework, I have seen parents making up for everything their children screw up. Lost a coat? You get a new one. Forgot your homework? Your mother’s doing it. Have to go anywhere? Your parents are driving you everywhere you want. Even in the middle of the night. You don’t know what to do after high school? Well, just sit around at home moping until you find out.
They have nice parents, do they? (Of course, not all parents and students are alike. I do have students who have to be quite self-sufficient too.) But I can’t shake the feeling that these young adults have the deep feeling that they are really dependent on their parents. And that they won’t know what to do when on their own.
While responsibility might be a burden, eventually each and every one of us has to take responsibility for himself and his life. Well, there even might come a time where our children will have to be responsible for their children or, gasp, even us, their parents. With responsibility comes a sense of accomplishment and capability too. It’s not all bad though there are a lot of young adults out there who shy away from it. Who never learned it.
Young adults who grew up thinking that it was their parents they were doing their homework for. Interestingly they started failing school the minute they were old enough to realize that their parents don’t have any real power over them. When I had talked to those parents earlier and said, “Well, let him go to school without his homework then.” The parents had answered, “But then he will have bad grades!” Yeah, he will. Maybe that’ll teach him to do his homework.
I’m not talking about not helping. I’m the first one to explain something for the umpteenth time, to say, “Maybe you should try this.” But today my son refused to get dressed and then had a tantrum about his breakfast (“What do you want for breakfast, müsli or bread?”, “Müsli.”, “Are you sure?”, “Yes, Müsli.” – “Here’s your müsli.”, “But I dooon’t WAAANT MÜÜSLIIII!!!). So I told him if he didn’t get dressed he could walk to preschool naked. Then he dressed. And then we left for preschool. No breakfast. For him that is.
But I’m still behind what I thought I would be doing before I had a child. Back then I thought that a four year-old should be able to dress himself, pick up his toys, and help with housework. Very funny. Right now my son’s responsibilities are: dress and undress himself, know when to use the toilet, and unpack his backpack. Sometimes, very rarely I ask him to put his plate on top of the dishwasher after meals. One reason for this is that housework around here mostly happens when he is at preschool, but maybe we should change that.
Children of his age that are visiting Montessori school already learn how to cook a little, they brush their hair, they brush their teeth and they know how to sweep the floor and cut vegetables. They certainly have to pick up their toys.
So I’m thinking about which responsibilities to introduce next. I don’t want to end up with a boy who’s 16 and who comes home, drops his shoes in the middle of the floor, slumps into the next chair and says, “I need something to eat.” And who then expects me to cook something for him. I definitely don’t want him to grow into a man who says that housework is for women. A man who never will move out because he doesn’t want to be without room service and clean laundry.
I’d like to raise my son with the knowledge that actions have consequences and that he will have to face them on his own someday.
So, what are your children responsible for?