Children grow up and leave home. They go from helpless babies to mature adults who have sex and drink beer while your back is turned. The secret is to try and keep pace with them. As they grow, you have to back off more and let them do more. You have to resist the urge to do everything for them and let them fry eggs* or paint dustbins** for themselves.
It’s a delicate balancing act. You can’t give kids more responsibility than they can handle, but at the same time, you can’t hold them back. And when you do let them fry eggs or paint dustbins for the first time, they are going to make a mess yolk on the stove, paint on the garage floor. It’s the mess most often that makes a parent say, “No, you can’t.” But we have to break a few eggs (haha) to be able to fry one. We have to gloop a bit of paint if kids are going to be able to carry out any DIY job for themselves when they are grown up.
When kids are tiny and learning to drink from a cup for the first time we expect spillage. We stand there with a paper towel in our hand prepared to mop up. But by the time they are teenagers, we’ve forgotten the art of hiding the paper towel
* This one comes from my own son who, when he was asked what being a grown-up meant, said it was being able to fry eggs as he wasn’t allowed to he was about 8 at the time. I felt so mean I got him cooking breakfast every day for a month until he was sick of frying eggs.
** This came from a friend who was always angry with his father. When I asked him about his relationship, he complained that as a kid he was never allowed to do anything to help. He finally lost it with his father when his father was painting a dustbin and the kid wanted to help and his father said, “No.” But why? It wouldn’t have hurt. Why the father was painting a dustbin in the first place remains a mystery behind our back waiting for them to spill stuff. We expect them to be able to keep their room tidy the first time. But they’ve never done it before. They don’t know how to do it. They have to learn, and part of that learning process is not doing it, doing it badly, doing it differently from how we, as adults would do it. Our job is to help them. To hand them responsibility slowly, bit by bit, but with guidance.
We expect kids to do everything right the first time, no spillage, no broken eggs, no paint on the floor. It is our expectations that are unrealistic. Growing up is a messy business.