My sister Kathy says to let kids crack an egg into the dough even though they'll get eggshells in it. It's a simple bit of advice that encompasses all I want to be as a parent: carefree, adventurous, present, and supportive. In pursuit of making them better people, I want to allow kids to take ownership of a process and any mistakes that might arise. I aspire to be the mom who lets her kids crack eggs directly into the batter.
Every time we get to that part of the recipe, I shrink away from the moment. The thought of watching the eggshells get into the perfectly measured ingredients feels dangerous. I compromise and allow the oldest, Darla, to crack the eggs in a separate, empty bowl. I graciously let the youngest, Jude, watch. The only condition to this is that we need to have more than enough eggs to waste because I'm rinsing out that bowl if she gets a bunch of eggshells in it. We'll just have to start over until only the egg yolk and white emerges.
I've always been afraid of letting my kids fail. When Darla was a baby, I would stack all her blocks for her. At first, I did it because I wanted to show her how to do it. Then, when she struggled to accomplish it, I guided her hand to the right spot. Eventually, it just turned into a game where I stacked the blocks, and she knocked them over. This routine lasted well past her first birthday. This process has evolved as she's grown older. Now we're at the point where I cut, paste, write, and decorate Darla's class projects for her after I have to watch her struggle through it for a minute. I'm keeping this legacy alive with Jude by putting on his shoes the minute he expresses frustration with the process. In my attempt to make everything copacetic, I inadvertently conveyed the message that they're incapable.
I'm cognizant of the benefits of failing. On the surface, in conversations with other parents, I present myself as a mom who holds her kids accountable and encourages them to be self-sufficient. In practice, though, something happens to me when I see my children struggle. My hands start moving toward the problem without me willing them to. I pull the project a little closer to me and, under the guise of "helping," finish writing out the sentence or drawing the fish that they struggled with.
My intention in doing this isn't evil. I want my kids to find enough joy in the process that they seek out these challenging projects or experiences on their own. My subconscious tells me that if I let them see the beauty in a finished product, then they'll work towards that completed piece of art or family tree on their own. If they get too frustrated with the process, then they will forever give up. Unfortunately, the outcome is less than desirable. Because I fear their frustration, I deprive them of learning about everything in between in pursuit of a perfect finished product.
Since my kids come from a long line of "Great Giver Uppers" ( my mom's category for my siblings and me), this is a real fear. In ninth grade, my English teacher assigned a 500-word research project. I chose Stephen King as my subject because I forgot to pick out a subject and I happened to be holding his book when my teacher asked. After about five minutes of research, I determined that there were no biographies written about him. I managed to stretch out the bio from the back of Skeleton Crew to meet the minimum word count. 15 years later, Greg informed me that there were at least four biographies written about him by the mid 90's when I was in high school. I can't confirm this after my two-minute internet search, so I can't say whether this is true or not. As you can see, my kids are at risk of being labeled "Great Giver Uppers" without me doing everything for them.
When I witness helicopter parenting, I get very annoyed. Others act as a mirror; we hate when we recognize our worst qualities in other people. When I feel angry with helicopter parents, I have to admit that I also may have a slight case of helicopter parenting. My helicoptering is to my kids' detriment. I let my fears of their frustration and aggravation make my parenting myopic. In my helicoptering, the future is inconsequential; what matters is that none of us feel discomfort at the moment.
I take baby steps to get there. Sometimes, I have to wash dishes while I'm helping Darla with her homework, so I don't feel the urge to be "helpful." Or, maybe I need to cheerlead Jude through the process of putting away his toys while I focus intently on tying my own. All I need to do is step back and watch the process unfold.
This morning, as Jude and I walked Darla to the school, they ran ahead of me. I watched in a panic as they got closer and closer to the corner.
"Don't yell at them to stop," I told myself. "My kids know they have to stop. Don't say anything. Just watch."
Right when I felt like I wanted to let out a blood-curdling scream, imagining them running straight into traffic, they stopped. My kids may have gone to the very edge of the curb, but they didn't go into the street. I walked over to them, looked both ways, and we crossed the street together. They were unaware of the minor victory I'd had that morning. Maybe in the next few months, I'll let Darla crack the eggs directly into the dough next time we make a cake.