Removing the Invisible Help

“Next weekend is going to be really different.” I said to the kids gathered around the table for Sunday dinner. “I’m going to be gone all weekend.” They accepted the news almost without comment. After only a short discussion of likely ways that things would be arranged, the kids moved on to talk of other things. I wanted very much to plan specific details, call people, get commitments. Instead I let the conversation drift elsewhere. The whole point of my going is to force me to stop trying to manage everything and to let them step up and sort challenges without me jumping into the middle. It is very hard for me to stop helping.

Everyone has assignments around Sunday dinner. I called Link into the kitchen to clean and set the table. He came slowly and worked at the project with many moments of distraction. Three different times I found myself picking up garbage or dirty dishes from the table. I was right there. I wanted the job done. I was only helping a little. Three times I carefully put the thing back down. I am fully capable of “helping a little” so much that I do 90% of the work. Learning to work is important. Learning to tackle challenges and over come them is important. These are things my children must fight for and struggle with. The more I help, the less task completion will feel like a victory. I know all this logically, and yet I pick up dirty socks instead of making the kids come get them. I put away back packs. I mop up water on the bathroom floors. I sit next to a child and help with homework. All of this is so habitual that I don’t even realize how much help I’m providing and my kids have no idea how much work they do not do for themselves.

Helping and serving are good things. I know that they are, which is why so much of my energy goes into them. Children need to be helped and taken care of. They need to be nurtured. They also need to be challenged. At some point the mother bird has to stop bringing worms and start shoving the baby bird out so it can learn to fly. Humans are far more complicated than birds. There are hundreds or thousands of aspects of growth. Kids need their financial costs covered until their late teens (or longer), but they need to start cleaning up after themselves when their ages are still in single digits. The trick for a parent is figuring out where to challenge and where to nurture. I am really good at making life easier for those around me. I have a hard time making things challenging.

So I will be providing a challenge by removing all the invisible helping I do on a daily basis. I’ll be away for three days. I’ll also be challenging myself by going someplace new which will only have a few familiar people. I expect there will be fun. I also expect that it will be hard for all of us. Yet we’ll come out of the experience having learned new things. It will be good. More importantly it will show us all the hidden assumptions we carry. From this new knowledge we can craft new patterns in our family structure so that I am not overburdened and so that the kids are learning to fly.