The Summer of Independence: Teaching our Tots to 'Do It Self!'

As my babies have grown, I have grown increasingly sentimental for those baby days when they needed me so urgently; when I was the answer to their questions, their longings, their needs.
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Our children are now 3 (times three!), 5 and 7 years old. Much to my surprise, the toddler years are technically behind us. Much to my surprise, all of the clichés are true; the time passes far too quickly and before you know it, the days of breast and bottle and strollers and sippy cups are just a memory. A foggy, yet fond memory. A memory that is peppered with little voices who, upon discovering their independence, frequently demanded "Do it self! Do it self Mama!"

"Do it self" is the battle cry of the toddler set as they explore the world around them, eager to climb up/down stairs, get dressed/undressed or get in/out of the car. Why then, does this spirited streak seem to hit a halt sometime before kindergarten? It seems that my little clan of formerly independent strivers is now perfectly pleased to have me do virtually everything for them. Although they (for the most part) are competent and capable enough to tie their shoes, brush their teeth, wipe their noses (and rear ends!), clean up their toys and feed themselves, they have taken a backward slide that has left me longing for those stubborn, frustrating days of "do it self!"

One might accuse me of becoming an enabler; one might suggest that as my babies have grown into toddlers, pre-schoolers and grammar-school kids, I have grown increasingly sentimental for those baby days when they needed me so urgently; when I was the answer to their questions, their longings, their needs. Is it really so wrong to help a kid out by making his bed, tying her shoes or feeding him cereal? I fear the answer is yes. And I fear that I am not the only one guilty of catering to a spoiled lot of tots who have quite wisely figured out that it's easier to have someone else do things for you than to do them yourself.

Why bother making the bed when you know Mom will do it? Why bother putting the toys back in the toy box when you know they will miraculously end up there anyway? Kids are smart. Very smart. They have us wrapped around their sweet, soft , pudgy fingers and they know it. But we can't let them have the upper hand; we can't continually submit to those wide eyes and out-stretched arms; if we do, we are empowering a not so subtle shift in control that I fear is fueling a generation of tykes who are losing the will to "do it self."

That's why this summer is going to be officially proclaimed the "Do It Yourself" (DIY) Summer in our humble abode known as the Lyons Den. Buck up kiddos, this Mom is an enabler no more! This summer the ground rules are going to go something like this:

  • We've dabbled in the past in the genius of the National Parks "Carry In/Carry Out" policy. This summer, we are not dabbling; we are adopting and enforcing it. "Carry In/Carry Out" will apply to any item (think water bottles, baseball cards, Legos, dolls, books, etc.) transported to the minivan, backyard, front porch and all other locales. Should you "carry in" and neglect to "carry out", you will lose the object/s in question indefinitely and be subject to a fine. For real. And not just a penny -- this could be up to a quarter, Little People!
  • You want it? You get it! This mom is a waitress no more! This ground-breaking policy will apply to glasses of water, apples and other approved snack items and beverages. Of note, it does not apply to cookies, chips and ice-cream; they will still require approval (and potentially assistance, since we don't want to lose a kid in the freezer!) and must be approved by management (a.k.a. Mom or Dad).
  • You need it? You carry it. This just might change the subtle curvature in my spine that has resulted from not only carrying triplets, but carrying their associated stuff and siblings! This summer, if you need a beach towel, it will go in your backpack. If you need to return a library book, you can take it in your book bag. You get the idea. This is about you doing some of the heavy lifting so this mom literally has a lighter load.

This may sound a bit harsh but it's not meant to be; it's meant to teach my children (and perhaps others as well?) to "do it self" now so when the day comes that they have no other choice, they will know how. And when that day comes, I hope we all look back fondly on the DIY Summer, the summer we set the rules, improved our habits and filled our days with fun in the sun -- speaking of which, one thing they won't "do self!" is apply sunblock. I will have to retain control of this for a little while longer... in fact, I just might forever enjoy this one lingering opportunity to hold them, love them and protect them. After all, isn't that what moms are for?

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