Hands Off

I shared this article about how we’re supposed to nag the heck out of our daughters on the KidsOutAndAbout Facebook page, and my friend pointed out another article about how we’re ruining our kids by overparenting, and he was teasing me when he said to reconcile them.

It’s easy. Nag the hell out of your kids (article #1) so that they’ll do stuff themselves instead of doing all the stuff for them (article #2).

My kids are 14 and almost-12, which is a tough age for following this policy.

M, for example, has reached the age where she needs to do grown-up, boring-ass stuff. Like checking her emails and filling out her own forms. I am well aware that checking emails and filling out forms feels like an irritating waste of time. Of course it does. It feels that way at age 45, and I presume that it will always feel that way. But that doesn’t mean that learning to suck it up and do it isn’t a valuable life skill. It absolutely is. Sometimes this involves nagging. Sometimes I come up with more creative solutions.

A while back I’d nagged M repeatedly about checking her email, and she kept not checking it. So I wrote her an email that said something like, “Dear M, I’m so glad you checked this email, because you don’t want to miss out on important stuff. In fact, if you’ve read this email by Wednesday [or whatever, I think I gave her, like, five days or so] and tell me that you read it, I will give you $20. This offer expires on Wednesday at 10 pm.” Of course, she didn’t read her email, and then on Thursday or Friday I told her about it, and how she’d missed out on the cash. I don’t know how much that specific experience helped, but I’ll tell you that these days, she’s much better at checking her email. Even if that is “the old people’s way” of communicating.

Another situation in which it’s sometimes a struggle to get kids to manage their own lives is with jobs. Back when the kids were little, some of their first babysitters were hired through the babysitters’ moms. Later, I tried to hire a kid from the neighborhood to watch our cat, and I found out that the kid’s mom had been taking care of the cat instead. That’s not what I wanted. Grown-ups are too busy to take care of neighbor’s cats except in, you know, emergency neighborly situations. I wanted to toss a few dollars at a kid instead, and not burden the grown-up.

So when a dog-walking gig materialized for the girls with a neighbor, I wanted to set the parameters early. I told my neighbor that I was going to try to stay out of it, and that although I think my girls are pretty conscientious, she could absolutely feel free to fire them if they weren’t doing a good job. I wouldn’t be offended. Now, when the neighbors see your kids walking dogs, it’s an advertisement of their services. So they’ve done other jobs as well.

J’s newest gig is with a friend and neighbor, and scheduling has been a little bit rocky. The plan was that she’d walk the dog on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays, but the first Monday she was supposed to show up, J had forgotten that she’d signed up to go hang out with folks at an assisted-living facility, a tradition with one of the 6th grade teachers. I’d thought that she could go to the dog a little later, but J was in a panic. An hour later was too late. And she was freaking out, and I didn’t want to make the dog-mom scramble, so I just went and visited the dog myself. But then I felt like I had to confess to the dog-mom, so I called her to let her know I’d been in her house. At which point she asked, “Did J come on Friday. . . ?” Apparently money left for her wasn’t grabbed, and it looked like she hadn’t visited. Well, this was awful. Really, I had no idea. It’s been busy, and I just didn’t pay attention.  So I was all awkward apologies. The next day, when I asked J about it, she reminded me that she had visited the puppy dog on Friday. Which was a relief. Plus her schedule for the week had changed, so she could visit the dog on Tuesday and Thursday, too. I started to write an email to the dog-mom, and then I was like, “You know what? I’m staying out of it. J, you write a note and explain what’s up. You’re in charge of this, not me.” And I feel about 500% better. But I’ve marked my calendar so that I can remember to nag, just in case.


One Comment

  1. Claire

    It’s all about balance, and different kinds need more support than others, so it’s hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all formula. Although there are some absolutes, such as the inappropriateness of parents accompanying their adult children on job interviews!

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