How to Raise Confident, Compassionate Kids
When Kay Wyma noticed an attitude of entitlement in her five children, ages 3 to 14, she embarked on a campaign to introduce them to basic life skills, from doing laundry to hosting a dinner party. In an excerpt from her book, Cleaning House, documenting the yearlong project, Kay recounts the epiphany behind her quest.
Stuck at the stove stirring a stubborn banana cream pie filling, I emphatically motioned and mouthed to the nearest sibling (Barton), “Please take care of Jack. I need to finish this call.” Wrinkle-browed, she thought about balking, but true to character she jumped right in.
Several minutes later, still in the midst of the phone call and still stirring the filling, which refused to thicken, I heard screaming upstairs.
Then a very loud “Oh, noooo!”
At this point I faced a choice. I could end the phone call, quit stirring my concoction, and actually be a responsible mother. Or I could stay the course and finish my pie. I, of course, opted for the latter.
With sweat now literally dripping off the elbow of my stirring arm, from having stood over that stove for close to 45 minutes, I noticed Barton standing next to me, scribbling on a piece of paper. When done, she lifted it for me to see. With spelling and grammar skills parked upstairs at the scene of the accident, she had written, “Jack went Pee on the flor upstairs.”
Since I’ve established my obsession with my pie and phone call, you may not be surprised that I didn’t immediately head upstairs to clean that mess. I looked at the able-bodied child next to me and remembered that she’d been introduced to Lysol months ago as part of Task 4.
“Would you pleeease clean it up,” I mouthed, knowing full well pee outside a toilet bowl is a big request.
In a whisper, she begged, “Mommm. Noooo!”
Boxster stood close by, gawking and laughing at the entire scene because it involved a bodily function. I turned to him.“Will you go clean it up? Come on. You can do it. I’ll make it worth your while.”
“No way! I wouldn’t do it for 50 grand.” “Don’t worry about it,” I muttered. “I’ll just clean it later.”
Both kids slipped away, and I began to wrap up my call, confessing all that had transpired. Before I could finish, however, Barton returned, scribbling another message. When she held up the paper, I saw that, under the frantic initial note, she had written, “I cleened Jacks Pee.”
(No doubt stunned by the experience, her spelling and grammar skills were still upstairs.)
What could I do but smile—for so many reasons. That she would reach beyond her comfort zone and clean a disgusting mess, change the kid’s clothes, and place the dirty clothes in the washer warmed my heart. She did a job she didn’t think she could handle. She went beyond what I asked.
Moments like this, when my kids and I both get a chance to see how capable they really are, assure me that the Experiment wasn’t just a harebrained idea. Crossing hurdles like these prepares her (all the kids, really) for much more challenging situations in the future.
One thing I’ve learned is that the journey of life goes more smoothly when you’re traveling with someone. Roads traveled alone tend to lead to disaster and sometimes despair.
I’ve also learned it’s a good idea to tap older and wiser resources. So, as we began the Experiment, I volunteered a few veterans to travel with me as I chronicled our adventure on my blog. These seasoned souls come from different backgrounds and experiences, but all share the common bond of survival and were more than willing to offer tips and tactics learned from their own travels. I call them my Ironing Board because they helped me smooth out the wrinkles—not the facial ones caused by parenting stress (although I’m sure I could use some help there), but the uneven patches in our family life that left me feeling rumpled and creased.
In addition to my Ironing Board, guest bloggers offered great insight and helpful hints on navigating our road. I also extended an open invitation on my blog to anyone brave enough (or desperate, or in need of comic relief ) to come along for the ride and share ideas, innovations, and insights. Friends from all over the world, from all walks of life, have told me they have the same parenting issues with their kids, in India, Australia, Great Britain, and even impoverished western Africa.
Just the other day I was chatting with my sweet friend Clara. She comes twice a week to help me with Jack so he can avoid living his life in a carpool line. Believe it or not, all my kids napped at home in their own beds when they were little. I wanted Jack to have the same opportunity, so I whittled my school carpool responsibilities to a minimum except for the days Clara helps me. I shared with her my ideas on our Experiment and how the kids would be assuming some of the chores around the house. Being a mother of four, she commiserated. She told me that she’d been so frustrated with the mess in her teenage son’s room that she had taken his door off the hinges. She then told me that her 18-year-old doesn’t see any reason to get a driver’s license. Why should he? Everyone else can drive him.
The only way to conquer youth entitlement is one house at a time. What a privilege we have to celebrate all that these kids have to offer and to help them realize their potential by bringing on the work. It’s incredibly exciting to consider the abundant possibilities just around the corner for a generation empowered by parents and other adults who believe in them, support them by teaching real-life skills, and then pile on the responsibility.
Think about the ramifications of unleashing this tech-savvy crew on global economic issues, seemingly incurable diseases, and age-old political conflict. So here’s to seeing what can happen when we tell our kids, “I believe in you, and I’m going to prove it by putting you to work.”
Let the empowering Experiment begin.
Adapted from Cleaning House, by Kay Wills Wyma, by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.