This morning I had a nice hike at Rancho San Antonio, along a route I usually run. This time, I walked it with a friend who's training for a big walking event next month, and with Katrina in the jogging stroller. It's a steep trail for a jogging stroller, certainly doable, but I was glad to have the excuse that since my friend was training, she should do the heavy pushing up the steep parts! Still, my rear end feels the strain, moreso than when I've run the same route.
We got talking about how much more independent and self-sufficient kids were back in our day (boy that sounds old), in the context of how difficult it is to get our own kids to do the most basic self-help tasks. Getting the boys to get dressed in the morning is still a major undertaking -- and why should I have to do that at all? When did book reports start requiring so much guidance? There really are no meaningful consequences we can employ -- I can't actually leave the boys behind and have them miss school, and Gabriel would be just fine with not doing a book report.
Adversity builds character, strength, resourcefulness, independence, self-sufficiency -- all valuable skills for life. Are we doing our kids a favor by raising them in such luxurious circumstances? To hear Julian groan and gripe about brushing his teeth, you'd think I'd told him to scrub the floors for 6 hours. Then again, no one suggests a return to the old order, a life in which kids were left to fend for themselves far more often, in which parents covered the basics but didn't engineer the details. Nowadays we want to be more involved, perhaps to a fault.
But the middle ground is elusive. I don't know how to enforce serious consequences for inaction, misbehavior or rudeness without completely overhauling the way we live. I don't know how to make them more self-sufficient without approaching the boundaries of neglect. And I'm not sure I'd want to do that, even if I had any idea how, or thought I could.
Tonight I was talking with the boys about how other kids live in other parts of the world, or in other times in history. I told them about how my friend took care of herself and her brother in 2nd grade, and that she just got dressed in the morning and got her and her brother to school without any parental guidance, because that's just the way it was. Other kids come home from school and go to work at their parents' farms -- or don't go to school at all to work to help the family. I try to do these talks without admonition or sanctimony, and make them appear informational, though I suspect that only goes so far without a concrete point or plan.
Gabriel listened with interest, then piped up, "But Mom, I have it harder than many other kids." "You do?" I asked with curiosity. "How so?" And he delivered with complete sincerity, "Well...they get cookies for snack!!"
I have a long, long road ahead.