Real world problems: Responsibility is a life lesson that starts at home

File photo. File photo.

I’ll never forget the first time Simon gave me lip about taking his plate to the sink after breakfast.

“That’s a mommy job,” he said.

I raised my eyebrows and said, “No baby. That’s a family member job.” What I actually wanted to say was, “Oh no you didn’t!” But that’s not what this article is about.

I’m a firm believer in preparing my kids for the world instead of trying to shape the world for them.

In my earliest days as a parent, I caught myself avoiding situations or experiences if I could foresee tears or tantrums in the outcome. I would let Simon leave his toys out before he went to bed and clean them up for him after he was down. I would put his shoes on for him, so we could get to preschool on time. I thought I was controlling the chaos, but what I was really doing was creating a world for my son where, with every little toy I picked up for him, I showed him that he could make choices without consequences—that I would literally clean up the messes he made instead of helping him to learn from them.

Growing up, my own mother always said her biggest job was to prepare my sisters and me for the world, and, well, I have never been one to let down my mother, so once I realized the disservice I was doing for my kids, my turnaround was quick. Not pretty, but quick.

I began to see tears and tantrums differently: They weren’t something to avoid. They were opportunities to teach, guide and explain.

“Teaching responsibility and independence is a huge part of being successful in and out of the classroom,” says Laura Schaaf, a third grade teacher at Johnson Elementary. “I always challenge and encourage my students to try things on their own before they raise their hand for help. I want my students to think independently and know that taking risks and working through mistakes is part of the learning process. While they may get frustrated through the process, there is so much more to gain from allowing them to exercise and develop their problem-solving skills.”

The first time I told Simon to clean up his toys before we played outside, he stayed in his room for 45 minutes (yep, we timed it) and cried before he picked up one toy. The next time it was 30 minutes. After that, 15, and so on, until he finally understood that he has responsibilities as a family member and doesn’t just get to do what he wants to do whenever he wants to do it.

Don’t get the wrong idea, here, people. I don’t have a magic parenting wand that entrances my kids and gets them to clean the house. We have moments every day where my kids push back, yell “I don’t wanna!” and ignore me when I tell them it’s time for a chore. But the difference is that now I don’t make exceptions, because the world doesn’t, either.