Earlier this evening, I helped my daughter (almost 7) clean her room. As I hung up a getting-too-small dress in her closet, an adage that I've heard dozens of times popped into my head: Don't do anything for your kids that they can do for themselves. I was uncomfortable the first time I read those words, and have been uncomfortable with them every time an older mother, as well-adjusted as her children are, tells me this. Since when do we not help each other?
In our community, there is a teen suicide every few weeks. The sadness and "if onlys" reverberate through the town until the next sad event occurs. Nearly 50% of people who participated in Cigna's loneliness index in 2018 felt lonely always or sometimes. The former surgeon general of the United States said that isolation is the most prevalent threat to health in our nation.
This makes me wonder: are we taking this "Teach my kids not to need me" thing too far?
Our culture is slightly obsessed with the idea of independence. When I taught full time and had an infant at home, people told me how good it was for her to learn independence from me. When she got older and we decided not to put her on that big yellow bus, but to homeschool instead, the obvious concerns about her ability to be independent were written all over the furrowed brows of strangers.
But, I need people, and my children need me. This is not wrong or weak. This is human nature.
A few weeks ago, I went to the grocery store and saw a mom that I know from my MOPS group. Her child had broken a glass container, and she ran to grab paper towels and was wiping up the mess when I saw her. I went to help. She was fully capable of cleaning it up on her own, but I wanted her to know that I had been in that sticky situation too. At the same MOPS group, just a week earlier, a mom of grown children (Laurie Wildenberg) spoke to the crowd of tired young moms, and said, "I don't want my adult children to not need me. I want them to call me when they need help. I want them to come home for dinner and to still have a relationship with them."
Is it possible to teach our children to not need us physically, but to still learn to rely on others? Yes. We were created for community. We first see our need for others, for helpers, in Genesis. "It is not good for man to be alone."
I can teach my children how to do the laundry and tie their shoes, and allow them to do these things on their own. But what if the simple act of offering to help in physical ways like these is valuable for our relationship or our child's mental health? Why do we sacrifice relationship and mental health for that little golden statue called "independence"?
As my little girl hurdles closer to her seventh birthday, her responsibilities at home will increase. But when she accidentally spills the eggs that she's mixing in the bowl, I'll help her clean it up. When she can't find the pencil she needs to do her work, I'll help her find it. I want her to know that she can come to me and ask me for help as her life problems shift from missing pencils to navigating relationships or making major mistakes. In the distant future, I want her to call me up and tell me about the tough situation she's facing, not to run away and try to face something difficult entirely alone.