6 Steps to the Right Balance of Independence and Growth

"Nothing is #impossible the word itself says I'm possible." #AudreyHepburn
“Nothing is impossible the word itself says I’m possible.” – Audrey Hepburn

What do toddlers, pre-teens, and teens all have in common?

They cry out for independence.  “Don’t help me!” “I can do it myself!”  “I’m not your little girl/boy anymore!”

Sound familiar? 

They are not wrong.  Kids can do so much more that we think they can.  So how do we know when to step in and when to let failure happen? How do you teach accountability and responsibility to children who think they know it all already?  Here are 6 tips I use in my household.

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1.       Pick your battles:  I hate messes.  Call it a pet-peeve or OCD or what you like, but I like a clean, neat and tidy home.  My siblings (sorry guys) growing up and kiddo now, have other ideas of what home should feel like.  I learned early on as a parent, to pick my battles with my very strong-willed* child.  Now, when the room doesn’t get cleaned, I shut the door (out of sight out of mind) and my kid knows he doesn’t get to watch TV, play video games, play outside, create anything until the chores are done.  It has created a much more harmonious environment.

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2.       Offer Choices:  When I was younger, my parents divided chores by age (ignored gender rules).  Occasionally they would re-arrange as family dynamics changed.  I liked this.  But recently came across a “Chore Market.”  (This works very similar to Silent Butler). What is that?  Much like the Stock Market, a Chore Market is when your children bid on chores they will do.  The catch?  Lowest bid wins and that is now their allowance. This is a great way to start teaching financial responsibility, family responsibility, work ethic, and start the conversation on investments as they get older.

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3.       Provide Flexibility:  Flexibility is a key to success.  This prevents kids from thinking they must be perfect all the time.  Perfection can be rehabilitating.  So, teach flexibility with deadlines.  One of my favorite practices in home school is offering a Fun Friday – this is a five-week school scheduled offered to be completed in four days, at their pace.  We do not set days for subjects to be taught, my son gets a weekly schedule and he can finish it at his own pace.  Some very motivated weeks, he does two weeks in one, and some weeks there is carry over to Fun Friday.  But, he has the flexibility to finish his tasks as he needs.

Japan’s Independent Kids

4.       Support Growth: This one is hard.  We always want to be the protection for our kids.  It is nature.  Reality is – we will not always be there for our kids.  We must support them.  When I was five, my mom took me on a mile walk from my house to my kindergarten class.  That was it.  After that walk, I was on my own for getting to and from school.  As my younger siblings joined, I became responsible for them as well.  Different times, I know.  But, really, not all that different.  Teaching kids how to play in the neighborhood, get to and from school, and ultimately fail at school or chores teaches independence and that we are all human and make mistakes.  

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5.       Encourage healthy risk:  My son loves to cook!  But, he is also easily distracted.  But, when he asked to learn to cook his own breakfast at age seven, who was I to stop him?  So, he learned (first very closely supervised) how to make his own eggs.  This has now become gourmet eggs, sausage, and fruit in the morning.  After six months (I could have let go of the reigns sooner), he took over his own breakfast.  He knows makes all his meals except our family dinner.  But he also catches our family dinner often – taking responsibility for providing for our family.

Einstein was a Failure?

6.       Embrace Mistakes: We are not perfect!  Your kid will be less perfect than you.  Embrace the mistake.  Everyone spills milk.  Everyone burns a dish here and there.  Everyone skips to the back of the book at least once for the answers.  The trick is not to dwell on the negative and failure but to use that to encourage growth and learning.  As Einstein put it so well, “Failure is success in progress.”

Our kids are miraculous beings.  Our job is to help them see that – without inflating their ego. Finding a balance between independence and responsibility is hard.  But possible. The more we practice these steps the easier they become.  The more we encourage independence in a healthy way, the more our children will learn problem-solving, critical thinking, and fundamentals of life. 

How have you found this balance? What has worked?  What has failed? 

RESOURCES:

*If you have a strong-willed child, like mine, I really found Parenting a Strong-Willed Child: The Clinically Proven 5 week for parents of 2 to 6-year-olds by Rex Forehand and Nicholas Long to be very insightful.

Lessons for Our Children: Life is Sacrifice

Sacrifice.  Most of hear that word and think of sacrificing sleep, or spending time at home for one more hour of work. 

Throughout history and religion, there are countless stories of father’s laying down their lives for their children or sacrificing happiness for the happiness of their children.  From Abraham and Isaac to God and Christ, to Guido Orefice, a Jewish Italian bookshop owner, who uses his rich imagination to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp in the movie Life is Beautiful.

But sacrifice is more than just the grandiose gestures.  Sacrifice for your children is a daily cross to bear.  Although moms across the world sacrifice sleep, beauty regimes, time with friends, and often put dreams on hold, fathers sacrifice time with children, being at games and recitals, and seeing the tiny changes that lead to the big results.

How many times did your dad sacrifice watching his favorite movie so you could watch yours?  Or your husband sacrifice sleep to get the yard ready for your kid’s birthday party or build that Christmas present?  Or sacrifice a promotion for time with you and your child so your child could stay in the same school and graduate with his friends? Or when their country calls on them to serve, unceremoniously answer the call. 

Sacrifice is life.  Men have an uncanny way of showing this without making it an “all about me” parade.

Father and Son competing at ESPN Wide World of Sports together

My husband has made countless sacrifices to create a better life for our family and our son.  It is scary to hear your child be given a lifelong diagnosis.  It would be easy, and we know parents who have, let the diagnosis become a crutch, a way to explain away poor behavior, a way to not invest in the next generation.  But my husband did not.

Enjoying the gym Dad made for him

He took this word from the doctor’s and decided it would NEVER define our child.  He sacrificed his money to new tools, modalities, and things that would help our son learn to grow into the great man he is sure to be.  He built an entire Ninja gym in our garage so my son would have somewhere to go when it rains (which happens almost daily here), sacrificing his “Man Den.”

My husband sacrificed his time – in the critical ages of birth through five – as he deployed half the year every year, during the war so our son could have the medical care, quality home, and best education possible.

He sacrificed his career switching career fields so our son would have more of a chance to have a father in his old age.

Dad coaching in the long jump

The sacrifice of time is just not away from the children.  It is away from the things they prefer.  My husband has spent the past three years coaching my son in football, track and field, and long-distance running.  He sacrifices his Saturday mornings of sleep to get up at 5:00 am to run, work out and coach our little one to be better today than he was yesterday.  And those lessons extend beyond the field and track. They cross into school, family obligations, and even into what he wants to do when he grows up.

Sacrifice.  It is hard.  And we ask our fathers to do that every day.  Yet, we seldom say thank you to them.

This #FathersDay week, let’s make it a point, to continue to thank, celebrate, and edify our fathers.  Let’s remember that #dadsmatter.  Let us show them we know this and we are so grateful for them.

Celebrate the Extraordinary: Moving into a New Normal

Neon Sign - Think About Things Differently
Neon Sign – Think About Things Differently

The phrase “Getting back to normal,” has been used a lot lately as we start to look forward to the end of #quaratine and #socialdistancing.  We can’t wait to sit next to that annoying coworker, drive a car, get coffee with a friend. 

As a parent in the special needs community, I hear a lot of people wishing for their child to be “normal.”  If only they could play ball with their boy or go to a dance recital with their little girl.  So many times, they start sentences with “If only…” or “I wish…”

We live in a generation where everything is instant.  We compare ourselves, our children, and our lives to the fake world broadcast on social media.  We use social media as a tool to measure “normal.” 

But we do a disservice to ourselves, our children, our communities when we use this measurement.  No one is normal.

I’ll say it again – NO ONE IS NORMAL.

Your spouse is not normal.  Your child is not normal.  You are not normal. 

Those who think you are normal – HAVE NOT MET YOU.

What #socialdistancing is teaching us is patience.  Patience with our family.  Patience with our community.  Patience with our governments.  #Socialdistancing is teaching us the value of time.  Time with family.  Time for self-growth.  Time for laughter.  Time for love.  #Socialdistancing is teaching us who we are – at our core when no one else is watching.  We are learning who we are without the world telling us who we should be.

So, instead of wishing for normal, why don’t we celebrate the EXTRAORDINARY and look forward to what can be an amazing new normal.

The four youngest in the family: May look the same, but very different personalities.

1.       Different Children with Different Needs: I have said it before, and will say it again.  Our children are different from any other child – even siblings.  What makes this world so special is the differences.  Different, by definition, means NOT normal.  Let’s celebrate these differences and not a world of cookie-cutter sameness. That world lacks depth, color, and beauty. That world will also never truly come to pass.  It is about time we realized and embraced that. 

Spencer overcomes his fear of heights!

2.       Overcoming challenges: We all have challenges in life. Every one of us has overcome something – sickness, depression, addiction, self-esteem.  That is a HUGE accomplishment.  We should celebrate that not dwell on the past of “normal” where we lived in those things.  Every kid has challenges – whether they are on the spectrum, have a special need, or are labeled “normal” or “neuro-typical” by the world.  Every kid is beautiful.   We should celebrate the bravery of facing those challenges.  Celebrate the hard work that goes into overcoming challenges.  Celebrate the stronger, more compassionate, more confident individual who comes out on the other side of those challenges.

Daddy son time - investing in the future. The men walk on a pathway through the woods in Gettysburg, PA.
Daddy son time – investing in the future. The men walk on a pathway through the woods in Gettysburg, PA.

3.       Craft a new normal: As the discussion of how to “return to normal” after #socialdistancing and #quarantine start, I encourage you to stop.  Stop thinking about returning.  Start thinking about the future.  Why would we want to return to world measured in likes, memes, and insincerity?  We have been offered an amazing opportunity to do radical change in our personal lives, our community, and the world.  Let us craft a new normal.  A normal of Love.  A normal of Compassion.  A normal of Encouragement.  Let us stop measuring normal and start celebrating the uniqueness, bravery and beautiful creature that is the individual in the mirror, sitting next to us, across from us, or passing by.

I know it is easy to crave “normal.”  We want to have a routine, to have a semblance of balance, to want what we know.  But humans have NEVER been called to accept the status quo.  We have never been called to be complacent.  We are mechanisms of change. 

Family of four walk the street
Family of four walk the street

We have been offered an unprecedented opportunity to cultivate incredible change for good. It is our responsibility to let go of the “old normal” and embrace the “new normal.”  Let us re-prioritize our life to honor this opportunity.  Celebrate the gift that has been so lavishly poured out upon us – time with family, getting back to basics, being real with each other and ourselves.  As we move forward to “new normal,”” I pray we keep this in mind and look forward to the incredible change for good in how we treat each other and ourselves.