Growing up I always felt like my mom had my back. She was loving, supportive, and very encouraging. I knew she valued education, and it was very clear she wanted much more for us than she had for herself as a child. I have always appreciated and admired her because of that.
And although I recall my mom helping me with homework and projects, the help was minimal. If I asked a question she would try her best to answer it simply to provide clarity. If it was something she thought I should figure out on my own, she would direct me to the encyclopedias on our bookshelf and I would open them up and figure things out.
Helping My Son
Now I’m a mom and lately I have been giving a lot of thought to how much help I should really give my kids. My oldest is off to kindergarten this fall, so we aren’t talking major science projects or book reports yet—although those will come in time. I’m talking about small projects or homework assignments that 5 year olds may get.
Recently he had a project for his pre-k class about spider monkeys. Admittedly, I feel like I failed epically as a mom because the project slipped my mind and what we should have worked on over a period of days turned out to be a last minute thing. Clearly, I learned a big lesson and I will never let that happen again. No sense in turning the kid into a procrastinator like his mom, right?
Anyway, despite my last minute effort to help my son pull his project together, I still insisted that he do most of it by himself. What was the result? Something that looked worse than I know to be his best (if he has enough time), but still something that looked pretty decent for a 5-year-old that is still working on his fine motor skills.
What About the Other Kids
What stunned me was arriving at his school only to realize that a ton of the projects were pretty impressive. So impressive I knew that a 5-year-old had nothing to do with making them come to life. Instead of feeling bad about how my son’s project looked in comparison, I wondered about these other kids who didn’t get much of a chance to work on their own project. I worried about how much their parents might help them with assignments in years to come.
Don’t get me wrong; I want my son to put his best forward at all times. That’s actually why I felt so horrible about the last minute thing, so I totally appreciate that these parents had the very best intentions. I really do get that. But, for me, what’s really important is allowing him to put his best foot forward, not mine. He needs to know that he is perfectly capable of shining at any stage in life—without much help from his dad or me.
How much should parents help?
I think our kids need to know they have what it takes to do a phenomenal job on their own. Furthermore, doing things for them all the time creates unhealthy expectations on both ends and that can last for years to come. I have worked in higher education for over a decade and I cannot tell you how many times I have worked with students who admit that they didn’t even apply to the school they are attending. According to these students, their parents did it all.
Help is a wonderful thing and our kids need our help so they can thrive in all areas of life. However, there is a major distinction between helping and completely doing something for you kid. Maybe as parents we can all do a little better with letting go and allowing our kids to figure things out more. I know we can all recall the sting of failure from our own childhoods, and I know it doesn’t feel good. But protecting our kids from those stings in life will leave them feeling pretty disappointed and battered when adulthood strikes. Falling from time to time won’t kill them. They may get bruised up, but bruises heal and we usually learn something from taking the fall.
BMWK family, do you believe parents are helping their kids a little too much these days?