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New (School) Year’s Resolution: Do Less For Your Kids

Well, I’m back from my ten-day vacation in the U.S., where – despite landing about 18 hours before Hurricane Irene kicked in – we...

Well, I’m back from my ten-day vacation in the U.S., where – despite landing about 18 hours before Hurricane Irene kicked in – we managed to have a mostly bright and sunny family holiday filled with lots of swimming and relaxation.

Re-entry? Not so relaxing.

Within the first 24 hours of landing (on a red-eye), we viewed two flats for potential purchase, got caught in a torrential downpour which soaked all four pairs of Wellies (boots) worn in our family and began the migraine-inducing, spread-sheet requiring coordination nightmare that is planning the after-school activity calendar.

I’ve written before about how best to manage re-entry after a vacation and sadly, I did not really take my own advice this time around. (Addendum to this list: do not write checks when you have only slept for 1.5 hours.)

But I did one thing right, which was to resolve to tackle one “big” thing on my endless To-Do list: having my kids take more responsibility for themselves.

I’d been thinking about this before I went away and – per an earlier post on life skills for ten-year-olds – had already begun to put them in charge of things like cutting their own food and tying their own shoes. (Yeah, I know…pathetic. But better late than never.) They are also both required to do a chore: my son is in charge of the recycling and my daughter sets the table every night.

But as summer wore on, I realized how very much I do for both of them  – things like laying out my son’s school uniform in the morning and clearing all of the dirty plates from the table – the very sorts of things that no one did for me when I was ten years old.

While in the States, I also spent some time with my brothers’ six (!) kids and noticed how all of them – even the 6 and 8 year 0ld – do a lot for themselves.

And then, upon my return, I happened to read this fabulous post on the New York Times Motherlode blog entitled A Traveling Parent’s List. In it, legal scholar Lisa McElroy shares the lengthy and detailed To-Do list she left for her husband when departing on a recent two-week business trip. It includes things ranging from asking him to buy their daughter a sparkly (but not crop-topped) leotard  to telling him how to prepare home-made tomato sauce to requesting that he obtain more food for their pet frog.

I’m sure that this post was written tongue-in-cheek. But even if McElroy is making fun of her own control-freak tendencies, I’m guessing that there’s more than a hint of truth in there.

Lord knows she’s not alone. I just pulled up a document from my own computer, plucked from a week-long trip I took a few years back. On it, in addition to the sorts of normal things you might remind a spouse to do – like giving my son his asthma medicine and being sure that the kids bathe every so often (!) – there were also things like (original formatting included):


–please open Isaac’s book bag and take out any relevant slips/sheets etc, and save the weekly newsletter for me when I return; also clear out sandwiches/snacks/water etc as he wont have school for 10 days

remember to wash Isaac with Green soap and for allie use 3 capfuls of white Oilatum stuff in the water

–after they’re done, coat her body with white lotion (and hydrocortisone as necessary)



When I look at this list now, I cringe. And I know – in a way I perhaps didn’t realize even a few years back – that as with so many things involving our kids, this list is so much more about me than it is about them. My children don’t really need me to micro-manage their lives. They are both, in fact, quite independent. And my husband is more than capable of making sure that they get to school on time and eat their sandwiches.

Rather, *I* need to micro-manage their lives because it helps me to feel…in control. I’m not proud of that. But it’s true.

But that needs to change. Among other things, I’m hoping to go back to work full time (more on that later) so I will – per force – have to let go. My kids are also demanding more independence for themselves. My ten-year old wants to walk to school on his own. And if he does that, he’ll need a cell phone. (Both ideas terrify me.)

So, it’s time to cut some chords. As of about a month ago, they are both now in charge of making their own breakfasts. And last night I insisted that both of them clear their dirty plates from the table. I also let my son figure out when his violin lesson is happening this week, rather than looking into it for him.

These are small steps, I realize. But Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Nor is adulthood.


Image: 324/365 Lists by Vinnie123 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.








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  1. sassy September 8, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    Good luck! I will enjoy watching the progress of the kids — and of you. My youngest is a senior in high school and I am, with the ever present “support” (i.e., elbow in the ribs) of my husband, trying to back off and let him take responsibility for fixing his school schedule, talking to his coach, getting homework and college applications done without my checking up on everything every day. It’s tough, watching the mistakes, but I suppose it is time that I learned my own lesson. On the upside he is stepping up (not as fast and not in the way I would have done it, but I suppose that is the point, isn’t it? The way he wants to/learns to do it).

    BTW, he has a couple of main dishes he cooks (spaghetti carbonara and carnitas), does his own laundry (okay, with a lot of “would you put away your laundry or at least get it off of MY chair”), and generally keeps his grades up. So I keep telling myself that the eldest learned to more or less fend for himself at college (lots of calls, but he is handling things) and he will too.

    Like I said, lots of luck to you and the kids. And make sure that when your son gets his phone he understands that surfing the net on his phone will get him in all kinds of trouble;-)

    • delialloyd September 9, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

      @sassy-thanks so much. the hardest part *is* letting them make mistakes and not intervening. but that is the only way to learn. i let my son take a 15 minute walk in our neighborhood tonight-alone. it was hugely inconvenient for me to take him to a friend’s house and I decided that I just needed to pull the trigger. I worried every minute of it but felt much better once I knew he got there safely. and needless to say, it made his week!

  2. Wise Ears September 8, 2011 at 8:56 pm #

    Be sure to add teaching them how to sew on a button (even if you do not know how to do it) and how to organize…Everyone needs to know how to make a couple of basic food dishes too.
    I grew up with a controlling mother and lived with a mega – unhappy controlling sister ( to the point of abuse) and my big push was to assist my children in being creative strong members of society – I worked on helping them learn to think and take care of themselves.
    My parents made up buy our own clothing by age 12 and manage our money – we paid for college ourselves and for cars etc. even our own weddings….My parents paid for dental and health insurance until we finished college.
    When I was campus minister at a local State College my first month of work was teaching young adults how to get along with roommate, clean, cook and wash their clothing…Last year I ran into a mom who was mailing a box of food weekly to her son, whose college was 5 hours drive away…because he did not want to buy a meal plan or have to choose what food to eat!

    I just have reviewed several books about how we develop willpower and self respect…and how we learn not to procrastinate….modeling does not do it…we have to accomplish it ourselves to grow and become…folks are even designing video games to build in decision making skills because parents are not doing what needs to be done in these areas…

    • delialloyd September 9, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

      @patricia-the story of the lady sending her kid a weekly care package just about says it all, no? Lord let me never become that lady. Sewing a button is HUGE!

  3. BigLittleWolf September 10, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    We all recognize how much more complex (and competitive) every element of our cultural landscape has become – certainly our parenting, the educational environment, the expectations around both.

    As we lead (or follow?) our children into their gradual independence, the details we take on and those we relinquish are at least as much about them as they are about us, and what we’ve come to expect of our (supermother-yet-not-helicoptering) selves.

    All so tough. Everyone judging. And certainly us judging.

    Wishing you a successful (fun?) year.

    • delialloyd September 11, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

      “supermother-yet-not-helicoptering selves.” Can I patent that!??!?! :)

  4. Lisa McElroy September 10, 2011 at 9:46 pm #


    Thanks so much for posting! I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

    Yes, the NYT piece was intended to be a bit tongue in cheek, and I was honestly amused by the number of people who took it as a sign that I am deranged! It’s more that we moms know (as do many dads, including my husband) that there’s much more to a dental appointment than “take kids to dentist on Thursday at 4.” There’s the school pickup, with a note, with figuring out how to get the teeth brushed at school, with the form for the school district, with the kid who hates fluoride.

    And that’s what’s maddening and marvelous about being a mom!

    I’m so honored that you linked to my post, and I hope you’ll keep writing about your motherhood experiences.

    From beautiful Palau,


    • delialloyd September 11, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

      My pleasure, @Lisa. I loved the piece and saw myself in both its spirit and tone. Enjoy your trip!

  5. Barb @ 1SentenceDiary September 14, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    I am a big fan of giving kids more independence and also responsibility. But boy it’s not easy, is it? My method is to consider what *I* did at that age, and realize that my kids are, in all likelihood, just as able to manage the same amount of responsibility as I did.

    But I do have a question. Why does your son need a cell phone in order to walk home, where someone is waiting for him? When I was a kid, I somehow managed to walk home by myself even without a cell phone. I even stopped, sometimes, to play in the park or talk to a friend. :-)

    Best of luck, to all of us, with this letting go process.

  6. delialloyd September 14, 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    It’s a fair point, @Barb. I guess I’ve just given into the modern age. Here in London, at least, as soon as you are on your own going to/from school (unless just a very short distance) you get a phone in case there is an emergency. To be fair, his walk is probably 1-1.5 miles each way so it’s not around the block. But you’re quite right – I walked even further to that to my high school and certainly didn’t have a phone!!

  7. daryl boylan September 14, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    Controlling is something we take in with our mother’s milk, alas, but luckily for me, my mother’s poor health meant that I had to assume responsibilites that she would otherwise have not required. Don’t you develop poor health, because it certainly sounds like you’re heading in the right direction! I grew up in a world, as did my children, mercifully free of cell phones. A 10-year-old needs one to walk home from school? They have wolves prowling the streets of Hampstead these days???

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