How Do Parents Teach Self-Determination?

As a young mom, I recall Mikelle’s sweet stretched out yawns, her gentle infant coos and the terrible fear of the dreaded baby swing that threw her into a startle so severe she thought she would fall to the ground. I remember the many attempts to help her learn to sit. Valiantly, we attempted to get her take to little steps hoping to avoid a future in a wheelchair. I still can feel the softness of her hands in mine.

Memories as delicate as spring flowers echo through my mind as images of birthday gifts and squeals of joy echo when she opened her present and loved it. Even in the sweetest moments, I  wondered what would become of her as she grew into adulthood.

I knew I wanted Mikelle to be safe, respected and happy. The reality is I can’t guarantee those experiences 100% of the time.  What I could do was teach her how to “bounce back,” how to advocate for herself and to expect a good life.

Instead of putting our kids in a protective bubble, our parenting goals might be raising our children well enough that they have a sense of right and wrong, enjoy being a part of a broader community and experience the benefit of productivity and employment. We all want our children to experience independence to the best of their ability and ours.

Getting to adulthood takes effort.  It takes .practice and intention

As I stated in last month’s blog, we will get what we project and expect. When we move beyond just focusing on the importance of safety, we see opportunities for growth and learning are abundant.

Once there, you can find the benefits celebrating domesticity. (Groan)

Addition can be found in recipes: two cups milk, one egg, a tablespoon of butter, etc. Three tomatoes are growing on the tomato plant. Five days until spring break.

With the right Pandora station, picking up clothes becomes a dance, if you let it. If it becomes an argument, it becomes easier for you to do it yourself.  And, your child learns–I don’t have to pick up my clothes because “Mom will.”

Remember, our children will not be young forever. Mikelle will be thirty-five in June. Time flies.

Being domestic prepares us for life. Household chores teach critical thinking skills, decision making and the all-important notion of “making choices.” One day, your family member will need to decide what job they want. They will need to choose where to live. And, they will determine who are friends and who are foes —if we let them.

Where and When to do I Start?

Ask for help. If necessary, bring in reinforcements.

Kari helps Mikelle navigate her neighborhood.

Perhaps, a friend, a cousin or a grandparent can be more influential than you in motivating your family member to engage in household activities. When Mikelle was a teenager, I remember a conversation with a well-respected advocate in her early thirties who used a wheelchair. She advised me by saying, “Your job is not to do everything for Mikelle; your job is to make sure it gets done.”

Build your H.O.P.E. team.  Use your team to help you brainstorm and strategize.

Feel free to ask a member of your H.O.P.E. team to assist you in working out a family agreement for increasing expectations for your family member. Connect these activities to a goal your child wants to achieve. This agreement presents an exceptional opportunity for decision making for your child.  Go through the list of suggestions below with your family member and pick three. Make a checklist together, decorate it, print it out, do whatever works to show the tasks visually. Pick a time to do them and for the next six weeks focus on getting them done to the best of both of your abilities.

It takes about six weeks for a new habit to emerge. Be patient. Give it time. Celebrate even the smallest success.  Remember, for things to change, we have to change.

Here is the List. (Feel free to add to it and share!)
1. Make the bed.
2. Put away any toys or clothes from the day before.
3. Pick out an outfit for the next day.
4. Sort and start the laundry.
5. Folding towels/laundry.
6. Take out the trash.
7. Put away dishes, sort silverware.
8. Sort the recycling, take it out to the bin.
9. Count and balance your money, are you on track? How’s your spending?
10. Wipe down any dirty surfaces in your room, the kitchen, the dining and living rooms.
11. Sweep or vacuum.
12. Spend some time planning out your schedule for the day. Mikelle uses a visual scheduler.
13. Spend an hour each day working on a hobby like photography, bracelet making, or dancing. (Video games only count when there is a connection to responsibility.)
14. Introduce yourself to someone new every day.
15. Choose to listen to music over watching tv or cartoons.
16. Make a grocery list and head to the store.
17. Put the groceries away.
18. Keep a journal of daily activities or spending.
19. Make a list of three weekly goals (ex: spending the day at the park, driving to the         mountains or country, saving a little money, etc.)
20. Help with deciding on or cooking meals.
21. Bake treats for local workers like cookies for firefighters, brownies for baristas, etc.
22. Spend time exploring the local community and map out potential volunteer and work opportunities. Take a walk around and meet the people nearby. Whether it’s at a local coffee shop or the nearest grocery store, summer is for building friendships.
23. Hand out business cards so people will remember you. Mikelle keeps a bunch in her purse ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice.
24. Come up with your list of personalized chores! Keep it fresh by rotating days of the week.