Creating Future Adults
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how fast your kids are growing up. Mine, now 9 and 12, are almost unrecognizable. Just the other day, my 9-year-old asked me to please stop asking him what he wants to be for Halloween because “he’s already stressed out.” Poor thing. I half expected him to ask if I could arrange for a massage between coffee and yoga.
But he’s right. Our kids, like us, are hyper-connected and running on hyped-up schedules these days. We’re only a few months into the school year, and I feel like we’re basically just flying from school to homework to soccer to dance to Sunday school to Trader Joe’s back to school again. I don’t know how I can think about Halloween either (especially since it’s still 85 degrees here in Atlanta, and I just saw Christmas decorations at TJ Maxx). It feels like every day is Wacky Wednesday, with everything on fast-forward, and I’m just hanging on till Thursday gets here. And apparently, my “kids” are, too.
We’re only a few months into the school year, and I feel like we’re basically just flying from school to homework to soccer to dance to Sunday school to Trader Joe’s and back to school again.
Of course, growing up on fast-forward means there aren’t many years available, or left, for us parents to do our job. To teach our kids independence (not to mention safety, trust and manners) before they become adults, for real. If we want them to be good, strong people out in the big, stressful world, there are a few things we probably need to nail down at this pivotal stage — when they’re just about ready to handle some real grown-up responsibility. Here are a few things we can start getting our “little adults” to do:
Stay Home Alone
For a limited time, of course, depending on the age. According to the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS), children between the ages of nine and twelve can be left alone for less than two hours, and children who are 13 or older can be left alone and perform the role of a babysitter. (Children who are younger than eight years old should NOT be left home alone, according to DHS.) Depending on your state’s laws, now may be a good time to teach your kids a little independence. Let them hold down the fort while you go run a few errands or get out for a nearby (all-too-short) “date night” (though you’ll take it). If this scares you, just think … our moms did it all the time (and didn’t even have a cell phone!). But seriously, it may ease your fears to make sure a trusted neighbor will be home while you’re gone and to do a safety check (securing doors, oven, sharp objects, valuables, etc.) before you head out. You can also leave an in-case-of-emergency list behind for the kids.
Get Around in the Kitchen
When I was 9 (in a family of nine), I was making my own lunches, and often my own breakfast, dinner and snacks, too. This must have just occurred to me, because I only recently started getting my kids to pitch in with the lunch-making. And, from what I can tell, I’m not alone. But I’m lucky in that my daughter likes to mess around in the kitchen and can throw a decent dinner together. Of course, she also likes to leave the mess there, so we have a new rule: you can (and are encouraged) to cook whenever you get the urge — but whatever you use, you clean. Including the counters. And kids, let’s get serious. If you can build a Minecraft compound and navigate Xbox 360, I’m fairly certain you can find your way around a dishwasher and throw some Loaded Potato Skins in the toaster oven. Just stay out of the knife drawer while I’m gone.
Letting our kids venture out isn’t easy. But these baby steps are good prep for the real empty-nest days.
Handle Your Own Stress
My stress is mine, and yours is yours. I find this to be a good philosophy in general, with the adults as well as the kids in my life. You find a way to manage your own stress (respectfully and to yourself), and I’ll do the same. Deep breathing, quiet time, exercising, playing and making art are preferable to arguing, yelling, snarking, snacking and TV watching.
“Adulting” also includes making decisions. Sometimes hard ones. Of course, to be able to do this, kids need to know how to form and express their own opinions, interests and needs. For big families (like the one I grew up in), this is a tough one, especially when the needs of the group often come before the needs of the individual. But it’s important to let kids know on some level that it’s ok to tell us what they want/need, even if they may not get it. We try to give everyone a say in at least some of the family decisions, especially the small ones. Like on the rare occasion we go out to dinner, we take turns choosing the restaurant so everyone gets a chance to pick their favorite (and so we don’t spend 30 minutes arguing to the point that we’re now all starving).
Leave the Nest
Now’s the time when we mother and father birds are beginning to let our little sparrows take off on their own, whether it’s to Grandma’s across country, to summer camp or on their first school trip to the next state. While some kids (and most parents) truly are not ready for this separation, many are chomping at the chance to be free (even if they may miss us just a little bit). We can help foster this independent streak by trusting that we’ve done our job, by trusting those we’re sending our kids off to, and — though it’s insanely hard — by allowing them to figure some things out on their own, even (yikes!) to take a few risks.
Letting our kids venture out isn’t easy. But these baby steps are good prep for the real empty-nest days (I know, I can’t think about it either). They may fall flat a few times. They may skip a meal or cut a finger. They probably will forget to lock the door. But giving them the opportunity to falter and fail, and the assurance that we believe in them anyway, is really what’s going to help them fly.