I recently took a 14-year-old on an outing. I collected him from his home when his parents weren’t there. He had been told for the first time ever that he was responsible for locking up the house – but I had to remind him to get the keys… and close the door… and then lock it.
I was shocked to realise this was a teenager who’s obviously never been given that sort of responsibility in his own home.
One of the smartest kids in his class, but not trusted enough to perform some basic functions of domestic life. Would he not need to know how to do that at some stage? Of course he would. So why hadn’t his parents taught him? Because while academic learning was of utmost importance to them, life skills were not.
Maybe they think that life skills come naturally to kids as they get older, right? Hm, perhaps not.
I’ve always encouraged my own now 10-year-old to be as practical as possible, and not just out of necessity because I’m an exhausted single mother, as some people have observed.
It’s because that’s how I was raised. My parents were extreme ‘intentionally lazy parents‘ – a term which is now being used to describe parents who disengage and don’t micro-manage aspects of their children’s lives that they could manage themselves.
And so, my sisters and I contributed. We worked in the family businesses. We were expected to perform adult duties as kids – like receptionist duties on a Saturday morning at our parents’ medical clinic. That not only taught us teamwork as a family, but also basic skills: how to answer a phone and take messages. Deal with impatient people. Re-order supplies.
Sounds really grown up for young teenagers, right? But it worked. We learnt how to ‘adult’ as they say these days, and adult well. While still knowing we were loved and supported.
And so now as a parent myself, I naturally think of this when raising my own kid. He’s allowed to climb into bed with me whenever he wants, but he also needs to share the domestic workload, not only as member of the household, but also because he needs to learn how.
He does the rubbish every night. He makes his bed in the morning. He hangs out the washing – and starts the load if he needs something like a cricket uniform to be washed.
My family jokingly refers to it as ‘child labour’ – but not only do I not consider this an imposition on him, I’m not getting off lightly, either. I’m observing everything he’s doing, and helping him manage his decisions – and his mistakes – which, trust me, is a lot more time-consuming than doing the jobs myself.
I also have to manage the outbursts of frustrations when things go wrong. Am I sometimes tempted to step in and remind, or instruct? Or even take over?
But I don’t do it, because I basically know this: short term pain, long term gain. For both of us.
We deep dive on the ACTUAL hours mums and dads are putting in, on our family podcast.
This year, I’ve even let him start to manage his own homework timetable. So far, it’s resulted in him begging me twice for a note in his diary excusing his homework tardiness – which of course I’ve refused to do.
This is my rationale: while the stakes are low, I’m letting him learn things by trial and error. So they become habits that will be set for life.
By years 11 and 12, if those things don’t come naturally, it will be too late. Similarly, if he can’t make himself noodles, manage a load of washing, or remember his allergy kit each time he leaves the house, by the time he’s an adult – then I will have seriously failed in my job as a parent.
So, go ahead and call me an ‘intentionally lazy parent’ – but just know that it’s a lot harder than it looks.