It was 2:00 on a busy Saturday afternoon, and we had spent the day knee and elbow deep in the mud as we worked to install a new water line to the animal shed. We hadn't even had lunch yet, so I was in the kitchen trying to quickly shred some turkey for sandwiches. As I worked, my daughter pulled up a stool to watch.
I felt myself getting annoyed as she inched closer and closer. I was hot, tired, trying to hurry, and I had almost tripped over her several times as I moved about. But, suddenly, oblivious to my frustration, she asked, "Mom, can I help?"
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Mom, can I help? That question always makes me tense up a little, because, like any mom of little ones, I know that "help" will slow me down and more than likely create a few additional messes for me to clean up. "Help" washing the dishes results in water all over the floor. "Help" baking means flour all over the counter tops and cabinets. "Help" folding the laundry creates wrinkled clothes.
As moms, our lives are busy and the messes are endless, but we can't let our busyness keep us from doing the important work of teaching our kids life skills. No matter what our kids do when they grow up, they are going to need to be able to do laundry, cook, keep a house reasonably clean, and manage their finances.
When our kids are little, they want to be by our side doing whatever we are doing. They love to help. However, we tend to push them away because stuff takes longer with their help. In our busyness, we miss an opportunity to train them to develop good habits. We miss the opportunity to teach them that it's worthwhile to do something poorly so that we can learn to do it well—that there's value in slowing down to learn something new.
Honestly, between my perfectionism and being very goal-oriented, I still struggle to remember the importance of letting my kids help on a day-to-day basis.
1. Change my goals. Every day I have goals—things I want to accomplish that day. When my kids get between me and accomplishing those goals, it's easy to get frustrated and see them as an interruption. However, if I put training my kids in the number one spot on my to-do list, it helps me remember my number one priority!
2. Be flexible. I have tried various schedules over the years, and I have learned that sticking strictly to a schedule causes stress. I get frustrated because one of my kids isn't keeping up and we're getting behind. Then I get cranky which makes them cranky and it all goes downhill from there. However, writing down the ORDER of our day keeps us on track without creating unnecessary stress. (This also forces me to be very intentional about not over-committing us.)
3. Let them do it poorly. Of course, they are not going to do things as well as I do, but I try to focus on if they are putting forth their best effort and listening to advice. They will improve with practice, and if it bothers me too much, I can always redo it when they are outside playing.
4. Remember that I am making an investment. It's always hard to stop and learn a new skill. Many times I will waste countless hours doing something less efficiently than if I had invested a little time up front to learn a better way. It's the same with training our kids. It slows us down in the beginning, but when they master a skill, they can be a great help. This is a win/win! They get the pride of mastering new skills and contributing to the family. And, I get more free time to spend with them!