Last week I went skiing and hopped on the gondola with a family that had one extra spot. Grandfather was sitting on the far end of the cabin across from Grandmother. Sandwiched between them and Mom and myself were two kids, a boy of about 5 and a girl of about 6. Mom apparently had spent yesterday with the youngest kid, 3, who hadn’t liked ski school and afterwards (instead of skiing with Mom) had Mom ride the gondola with her all day, so she said to the group “Well, I am really glad to be skiing with you guys today since this [riding the gondola] is all I did yesterday! How were the kids on the hill?” Grandmother and Grandfather responded that they had been doing well, and even went through the trees, etcetera etcetera.
When it came time to unload the gondola, Mom turned to the five-year-old and said “would you like me to carry your skis?”
He immediately whined “ehhhhh… I can’t carry them…” and shoved them on Mom’s lap.
Grandmother to the rescue – “No, give those back to him, he can carry his own skis! He did it all day yesterday.”
Kid began to whine again and Mom said “no, it’s fine, I can carry them!”
Grandmother slowed her voice and said “No… seriously, he can do it himself.”
Mom said “how about this, I will carry your skis if you carry my poles.”
Kid whined about that and grandmother sternly told him he would be carrying the poles, at the very least.
The doors swung open and I exited.
We’re all just trying to do the best we can in this life, especially when it comes to raising our kids, and showing compassion is undoubtedly a good thing. But we have to recognize that the best path forward isn’t always clear, and actually often gets muddied by cultural perceptions and trends occurring around us. Perhaps this mother has unpleasant memories of her own mother’s rough and tumble way of getting her to develop her own aptitudes for self-reliance; perhaps the grandmother should have been better about balancing a ‘you can do it yourself’ attitude with appropriate loving sentiments and explanations of why making her daughter do the hard gruntwork herself was developing the strength of her character. Perhaps it is simply that the mother sees her friends doing work for their kids, or that she wants her kids to love her and doesn’t care about the potential repercussions on their self-reliance.
Whatever the case, this anecdote reminds me of two foundational principles in education:
1) When we do it for the kid, all we teach them is that we are better at doing the work than they are, reducing their drive to gain aptitudes.
2) There is no such thing as subconscious or ‘cruise-control’ parenting and teaching. We made the decision to take the trip through these confusing wilds, and we need to make every decision with a high level of conscious thought and observation involved.
Lastly, it reminded me to not lament the past or the way things used to be. Kids haven’t changed – the way we interact with them has changed. So let’s focus on how we are interacting in the present.