Hi, everyone. Mama Bear here. With our first two children, we (my husband and I) did everything for them. Food, drinks, clothes, toys — whatever they needed we provided, whenever they needed or wanted it. Going out? I would dress them. Hungry? I would get them food. Covers come off in the night? I would wake and pull them back up.
After some years and some more children, I began to rethink what I was doing. I began to notice that the more I did for them, the less confident they seemed in themselves.
When our fourth was on the way, I was stretched thin and in need of some new ideas. I looked at the times of day when we all felt stressed and tried to find ways to empower them. We started with hooks in the bathroom for towels, at their level so they could hop out of the tub, grab their towels, and hang them back up to dry. From there, we tackled shoes, clothes, food, and toys.
We had fun and it was exciting searching for ways to empower them and to alleviate stress. We decorated cardboard boxes for holding shoes. Old plastic containers held toys. The kids had a grand time standing against the wall measuring the height we needed to install hooks for coats and hats.
As time went on, I started letting go, letting go of the idea that if I didn’t do everything for them, I wasn’t a good mother. This was hard for me. I felt worthless but I couldn’t deny what I saw in front of me. As I let go, they grew confident in themselves and became excited to try new things.
How could I deny them this beautiful growth?
At first, we went slowly, working on the small things. I learned to trust that they would know when to ask for help. I stopped interjecting myself as much, preferring to wait until they explicitly asked for assistance. This made for an interesting and wonderful new relationship between us. No longer did they simply watch me live; now, they were living right along with me.
Bath time became more about fun and silly songs than me rushing to get them all washed and dressed for bed. Meal times became less about me preparing the food and more about them actively helping. They were learning about nutrition as well as making their own food. Was this messy? You bet!
Often, I was left cleaning up a giant-sized mess, but as time went on, the messes got smaller and I soon noticed them cleaning up after themselves. To help, I put a stool where they could reach the garbage can. We talked about germs, how they are spread, and countless other everyday things that I already knew but never thought to tell them.
Going out was no longer an hour of preparation for me. By empowering them to do things for themselves, we can now be headed out in as little as fifteen minutes. Not bad with five kids, I think.
Note: It was about two weeks of learning who wanted to do what and working out the kinks, but – wow! – was it worth it.
When it was time to clean up their toys, they enjoyed knowing where their toys went. As they had been active participants in the process of setting up buckets and such, they felt a sense of ownership.
Did it solve all of our cleaning issues? No, but it was a big step forward. For me, it was a soft taste of what could be. For them, it was all the benefits of living life instead of simply watching me live it.