I was in the kitchen with my 10-year-old daughter. It was lunchtime, and I’d already made waffles. We try to be somewhat democratic in our house, so when I put it up for a vote as to what everyone wanted, the oldest and the youngest voted for waffles, while Norah didn’t.
Naturally, she refused to eat the waffles, and asked me to make her nachos. “Listen, kid,” I said. “I already made one meal. I’m not making two. But you know how to make nachos yourself, so have at it.”
I assumed this suggestion was reasonable. We weren’t exactly wasting food. Her brother was 12 and in a growth spurt, so he was just waiting for the one extra waffle to become available. But with kids, nothing is ever logical or reasonable, and when I suggested that Norah make her own nachos, her knees went weak and she fell to the floor, as if I’d just sentenced her to a lifetime of hard labor.
“But I can’t!” she cried into the heavens as if God or some other higher power was going to reach down and make her nachos.
This moment, right here, is exactly what it’s like teaching young children self-sufficiency. Norah was 10, and by now, I’d taught her how to shred cheese and safely use the toaster oven. She was tall enough to reach everything she needed to make nachos, and she understood that the biggest problem I have with children all wanting something different to eat is making multiple meals.
She had all the skills and knowledge to do what was required of her, and yet she refused to do it. So I refused to help her in hopes of forcing her into some form of self-reliance, only for it to turn into a huge fit, and later an argument, where she eventually dragged herself off the floor, and grudgingly made her own nachos.
And I know, with 100% certainty, that if this situation happens again, she will for sure, throw a fit, and we will have the same argument, her trying to get me to bend to her will and do something for her, and me trying to teach her to take care of herself.
But this is the reality of teaching self-sufficiency in children.
Listen, I’ve made a number of assumptions in my time as a father, and very few of them have panned out. But I think the absolute worst was assuming that if I just stopped doing things for my children, they would begin to do things for themselves.
Not that it doesn’t work out that way sometimes. But most of the time it comes down to me refusing to do something because I know my child can do it, and them putting up a huge fight to try and get me to do it. They burn a bunch of effort trying to force me to do it, when it would have been less work for them to just do it, and it would be easier on my anxiety if I just did it for them.
And sometimes, when we refuse to do something, they just don’t do anything at all and choose to live in their own filth.
For example, a few years back, when Norah was 7, my wife got really sick of picking up my daughter’s dirty clothes off her bedroom floor. She informed Norah that if she wanted her clothes washed, she needed to at least put it in the laundry basket. Mel stopped picking up Norah’s clothing assuming that she would eventually get sick of not having clean clothes.
There are a number of ways this could have gone. Norah could have started picking up her clothing and putting it in the hamper. She could have gone full awesome and started washing her own laundry. But what ultimately happened was that she didn’t do anything. She just started wearing dirty clothing she found on the floor, and ultimately she smelled like a raccoon. Mel or I ended up dragging her little butt into her bedroom, and supervising her as she picked up her clothes.
Now she does it on her own because she knows we aren’t going to put up with her crap.
No parenting manual prepared me for that. No manual prepared me for how much I would have to micromanage my children into self-sufficiency, but here we are. Or how much I would have to argue with my children about something as basic as hygiene, or how often I would have to fight with them for 20 minutes to do something that takes less than five.
Am I a bad father because they require constant guidance on this path to self-sufficiency? I don’t think so. I think my kids are really great. Each year they become a little more independent, but with each step on that road to self-sufficiency, I’ve had to battle them once, twice, three times, until they realized that I wasn’t going to do it, and that it did in fact need to be done.
Ultimately, this is what parenting manuals don’t discuss, and it’s why so many parents, on the wrong day, just throw in the towel and put your child’s clothing in the hamper. Teaching self-sufficiency isn’t as simple as not doing things for your children, trust me. It’s a long term goal, with small moments of development that can really only be seen by looking back and realizing that your daughter made her own nachos without putting up a fight.