I was running on lack of sleep, so perhaps that would explain my laughing outburst. But this story I’m going to share, while it made me laugh, also made me think.
Getting up at 4am in the morning is not my idea of fun. I am soooo not a morning person. But as a parent sometimes you do those things that you don’t want to do because you love your kids, right? My daughter was going on a trip for her school band and I volunteered to be a chaperone. It was an all day event where her school band would do a competition and then get to go to a theme park afterward. Luckily in my tired stupor I was not driving, we were taking the trip on a bus. As the bus started to take off I was zoning out looking out the window and overheard a conversation between a father and son.
son: “Hey Dad”
son: “Here’s my trash.”
dad: “I don’t want it. What am I going to do with it?”
son: “Where should I put it then?”
dad: “I don’t know, put it in your pocket until we stop”
It was when I heard the,”I don’t want it. What am I going to do with it?” comment that I just started cracking up laughing. As a mom I just expected the dad to put his hand out to get the trash (mid-conversation and without missing a beat of course). As I was laughing, the dad quickly figured the reason for my giggles and said “Yeah, my wife probably would have held his trash, but I’m not a trash can” (or something like that). This made me laugh even harder. My laughter was because he did something I didn’t expect. He didn’t do what I and many moms would do…automatically hold something for his kid.
This made me think, “Why don’t I say no when my kids ask me to hold something?” They are no longer toddlers who can’t hold something without putting it in their mouths or dropping it. What was stopping me from saying, “No, you can hold it.”?
This lead to the question, “How often do I automatically hold something for my kids that they could hold themselves?” Now this is a farther reaching question than just trash. Really the question could be, “How often do I do something for my kids that they could just as easily do themselves?” Examples of this might be related to holding trash but also helping them clean their rooms, getting their breakfast ready, clearing the table or simply holding things for them when we are traveling. In fact, I have even been known to buy huge purses in the past ( dubbing each with the name “mommy purse”) so I could hold all the things my kids may need or may give to me.
Really as parents it is not our job to do everything for our kids, it’s our job to teach them to do things. Of course sometimes it’s just easier to “do it ourselves”. But this “just do it ourselves” behavior unfortunately then perpetuates the habit of being the “martyr mom” who does everything, which doesn’t help mom or the kids. Just take a look to the left of the picture of a mom who is doing everything. How happy does she look? How do you think that burnt out mood would affect her family? Maybe if the kids helped, mom would be happier and the kids would learn some important skills.
I made a pact with myself that day to become more aware of this habit I have of holding trash and other things for my kids. I did ok to start. However, the other day we went to the playground and we all brought water bottles. My older daughter automatically gave me her bottle and the younger one whined, “Who’s gonna hold mine?”. I put my hand out and started to carry them to a picnic table. I stopped mid-way as I struggled not to drop the bottles and the camera I was holding. Then I realized, I’m doing it again! I could have easily told them to run their water bottles over to the picnic table. Instead I let them dump their stuff on me. So I asked my husband to take a picture of me with all the water bottles. I wanted a visual reminder of how I hold things!
So, yes, it takes awhile to break old habits.
But you know what? I am changing slowly. In fact, I decided to make it harder for myself to say “yes” when they ask me to hold something in my purse. I bought a smaller purse so I wouldn’t have room for so much stuff! Now when they ask me to hold something I can honestly say, “I don’t have room in my purse!” Ok, sometimes I still say, ‘Yes” but at least it’s now a conscious “Yes” so I am not always unconsciously being a dumping ground.
And by the way, when I told my daughter (who was also on the bus) about the dad who wouldn’t take his son’s trash, she laughed too. The kids know what they are doing. They just need to break the habit too. I want my kids to grow up learning to take responsibility for themselves and their things. My trying to not be their habitual “trash can” is a step in that direction.
I said in the beginning of this article that “As a parent sometimes you do those things that you don’t want to do because you love your kids, right?”. This doesn’t mean that we always need to do things we don’t want to do just because we love our kids. Sometimes because we love our kids we let them do some things for themselves they may not want to do.