I was blessed to have the cost of my college education covered by grants and scholarships. But even though the major costs were covered by those sources I still had ongoing expenses such as books, supplies, clothes and spending money. I took care of those expenses by working, sometimes more one than one job. Most of my friends worked as well, in fact, I can’t think of too many that didn’t have to work when I was in college. My freshman year I had one “regular” job and earned extra money in a couple of unusual ways. I washed clothes for the guys on my dorm room floor and changed oil in cars for girls. One of the things I did with some of my “extra” money was buying large golf umbrellas. During the spring I would cut class (this is NOT an endorsement of this type of activity) on rainy days and hang around the student center and walk girls across campus with my large umbrella. While that didn’t do a whole lot for my grade point average, it sure helped my social life.
I remember meeting a girl in college who didn’t know how to put oil in her car. Her daddy put gas in her car and checked the tires every Sunday (she went home every weekend) and sent her on her way. She asked me to look at her car one time because it was making a “funny noise.” The dipstick was dry...not a drop of oil on it.
While there may not seem to be much of a connection between my college life and successful parenting, a look just below the surface will tell a different story. I was able to capitalize on the inability of others to accomplish basic skills. I consider washing clothes and the ability to perform basic car maintenance (changing the oil or a tire) as basic life skills that every college aged person should be able to perform. I would allow some debate on the second (basic car repair), but I will not budge on the first. College aged kids should know how to wash their own clothes, among other things. We do our kids no favors when we fail to teach them these skills.
I think there are many reasons why parents don’t teach their kids these skills, but I think there are three primary ones: (1) not wanting their kids to fail, (2) the parents don’t want to look like bad parents, and (3) it takes time. I cannot tell you how many parents I have observed doing their kids homework or school projects through the years. There is nothing wrong with helping a child with homework or school projects, but there is a lot wrong with a parent doing that work for a child.
Parents should view the time their children are in the home as a time for training. Too many children are being raised as if they were living in a hotel with valet and room service. I have never met anyone who functioned well when raised in that environment. The training should begin early, with age and ability appropriate activities. Toddlers can be taught to put toys and dirty clothes away in toy boxes and clothes hampers. Older toddlers can and should be taught how to carry dishes from the table to the sink and how to help feed and water animals. The list goes on and on and the complexity and responsibility involved grow as the child grows.
Why do I consider this so important? Our kids need to learn how to fail. I have always felt that we have an unhealthy fear of failure. I believe that there would be no light bulbs or air planes or many other things we take for granted if the men and women of yesteryear feared failure the way we do today. When we fail to teach our kids how to properly handle failure we create adults who are incapable of standing strong through adversity and who cannot finish tasks, projects, and commitments. Success through failure requires preparation and practice. You wouldn’t set your dinner table with your best and finest china and then ask your five year old to carry their dishes to the table and you want to make sure that the bleach is nowhere near the detergent when teaching that ten year old how to do laundry.
We owe our children the opportunity to fail, whether in a homework assignment or a household chore. They, and we, may not like it now, but they will be better people in the long run.