We Are Putting Too Much Responsibility On Our Kids


I have three kids.

Most of you know this, if you are new to my blog …well now you know. Two are girls, aged 15 and 11. And my one boy is 2.

My 15 year old has been gearing up to get her drivers permit this fall, and thinking she would go for the driver’s license right away upon turning 16.

But as the months have inched closer to her written permit exam, she’s made a lot of other decisions with regards to her education that ultimately made her choose to put driving on the back burner.

That’s a long winded way of saying that she’s decided to graduate early and wait on driving until closer to 17. Maybe later.

Beyond having homeschooled since she was in 1st grade (so being pretty ahead of the game all along anyway), she really needs some time between graduation and life to figure out exactly what she wants to do and how she wants to go about doing it. We don’t live in a time where kids can just go off to college and everything works out perfectly …kids have high debts and shit jobs when they graduate if they don’t have a clear path in mind. And a lot of times, they do all of that to go into a field that didn’t even need the degree (and high debt).

Doing this will give her a couple years to figure out her real plan for college and/or beyond, and she can start that next step in life (whatever it looks like) at the same time as the rest of her peers. Because she’s a minor she can take some for-credit courses at the community college for free, she can explore volunteer and internship opportunities…and after years of homeschooling with minimal breaks and no summer vacations, she can also relax (for once). It’s a win, whatever way you look at it.

So the exam to accomplish early graduation as a homeschooler in California is administered the March after she turns 16. You guys see the timing is such that it really does make sense for her to focus 100% on that.

And after all, what’s the rush on the driver’s license anyway, right?

When I started mentioning it to people as they brought up her driving in less than a year, I got a backlash from a handful of people (3, to be exact) in one of two veins.

Either 1) they assumed it was really me saying she should wait, in other words sheltering her from the big bad scary roads and growing up; or 2) her not taking responsibility for herself.

People just can’t make decisions for anything anymore without someone waiting in the wings to criticize them.

I shouldn’t even reply to the first point. I wasn’t allowed to drive until I was 17, and in fact California has many laws that restrict what and who can be in the car with teenagers at the outset because of the high incidences of teenage deaths behind the wheel. I am not the catalyst behind her decision whatsoever; but if I were, it wouldn’t be abnormal.

And anyway, my kid my rules.

But to be clear: it was her decision. Hers. Not mine. HERS. 100%.

And it was a decision I found to be rooted in maturity beyond her years. Not all kids would decide on school and studying over the thrill of getting behind the wheel.

As to the responsibility.

Even if it were for fear or not being ready for that level of responsibility, what is this idea that kids under 18 are not still… kids? That their feelings or fears or concerns are completely invalid and they should just man up and grow up?

Repeat after me: they are still children.

And beyond that, has anyone taken stock – truly – of how much responsibility falls upon our older kids, today, as a culture? The shooter drills. The intense college admissions competition. AP exams. Competitiveness in sports. Plus looks, bullying, dating, peer suicide, all-time high incidences of mental illness…

Granted some of that is eliminated because my kids homeschool. But in many ways (because my kids are still very social, have relatively large friend groups, are out in the community daily, and have many of the same goals as their peers), they experience it all to varying degrees.

And in the case of my children, you also have to consider how much responsibility my two older daughters already have and take of their own accord around the house (which, I am sure, is common in other households as well as the business world molds and changes, and local, 9-5 jobs for parents have largely ceased to exist).

My husband works overnight shifts for a marketing firm that contracts with Disney. He’s an editor, so it means long hours, unpredictable hours, and a lot of overtime. When he gets home in the morning, he goes to bed and sleeps all day until it’s time to go back and start it over again. He works weekends and holidays often, and he almost never uses his vacation time. He basically is uninvolved in our lives unless he can actually be off for Christmas or Easter (but of course then he still sleeps half the day, either catching up or just on that different schedule).

That leaves me as the sole caretaker, housekeeper, financial planner, grocery shopper, child care provider, car maintenancer, schedule manager, meal, snack and every in between preparer, launderer, problem solver, medical care provider, educator, ride-giver…and so on…

My kids, being more responsible than some adults I know, have taken it upon themselves to pitch in for the sake of my husband’s dreams and my sanity.

It’s killing me to allow, and yet sometimes I feel I have no other choice; and even other times I realize that letting your kids have responsibility around the home has been proven in study after study to raise kids more capable of managing their lives as fully formed adults.

So my daughter doesn’t want to take on the “responsibility” of studying for taking the exam for her drivers permit, and the behind the wheel test and driving so soon, on top of everything else on her plate.

She cleans up my toddler’s toys every night when I put him to bed.

She helps cook dinner when I’m giving him a bath or nursing him (because, yes, I am still nursing my 2 year old).

She and her sister clean up the poop in the bathtub when he inevitably turns it into his large, personal toilet.

My 11 year old isn’t without added responsibility at home as well. She takes out the trash, regularly, when my husband has been too busy to change all the cans. She also helps keep the laundry moving, does dishes without being asked, and plays with her brother or feeds him breakfast when I’m driving my 15 year old to an appointment or tennis lesson.

Once a week, my kids and I spend hours going through all the laundry that has been done and sort, organize, fold, and put it all away. When my husband sees us doing it, he says “just leave mine on the bed.”

And this is the thing that I want to impress on all of you: my kids are not unique from other kids, and the amount that is expected of them today is phenomenal.

I get it. There was a time when kids did all of this and more. But there are two parents in this home, two adults responsible for it all, and my kids are at the very least helping to carry the load for one that is largely absent. Because they are already more responsible than a lot of adults I know.

So to suggest that my daughter needs to “start taking responsibility for herself,” and that the driving thing is just a sign that she isn’t doing that is – in a word – laughable. And this is what I am largely seeing happen with a lot of her and my 11 year old’s peers: that in the face of already doing it all and more, adults are still pushing the vice down even harder and demanding more of them.

And we wonder why so many kids have mental health problems now.

I feel like we have forgotten that under 18, they are still kids. And yet, at the end of the day, so many of them seem to have it more together than a lot of us did at that age. More together than a lot of us do today.

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