How to raise capable kids in Chicago

A while back, I read that Michelle Obama expects her kids to make their own beds every day. She gave the White House staff strict orders not to do it for them.

She said that if the staff did simple tasks for her daughters, the girls would never take responsibility for themselves.

I agree, and I think about the First Lady often, especially when my girls ask me to do something that they are completely capable of doing.

I have no problem helping and supporting my daughters. I enjoy lightening their load or reducing the chaos in their lives.

But when we are both at the table and they ask me to get up and get them a spoon, I usually say, “I think you can do that.”

I monitor my tone. I say it not in a demeaning or offensive way, just a firm statement of fact that they can now complete the task on their own.

They have patterns and assumptions based on what I have done in the past, but as they age, these patterns and assumptions need to be adjusted.

This necessary shifting is done with love, because I want my girls to be aware of their capabilities. I want them to depend on themselves.

Isn’t that the core of parenting, to help our kids become conscious and capable human beings?

We have to recognize when we get in the way of this process, when we are giving too much and not asking enough. Sometimes we hold too tightly to an outdated way of helping rather than encouraging our children to be accountable.

They won’t get it right all the time; we have to leave room for failure. And we won’t get this right all the time.

It’s not easy to let go of old habits.

I still find myself picking up their room because I tend to do it faster, and too often I find myself offering ideas for papers or projects when I know they should be doing it on their own.

None of us will do this perfectly, but we need to be aware enough to recognize and recalibrate when necessary.

And when they make a mistake (because they will), we need to remember to be empathetic and understanding rather than demeaning or unkind.

Growing up is a process, for us and for them. As we create new expectations, our kids will have an easier adjustment if they feel safe rather than afraid.

They need to know that they have somewhere to turn for support, because we may not be making the bed or getting the spoon, but we will always have their backs.

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