I think this is the main problem that most modern parents have when it comes to our children. Of course, we all want to teach our kids how to fish, so they can go out and be ready to live their lives independently and successfully. But how many of us actually teach them how to fish?
As a child growing up in a working-class family and living in a semi blue-collar neighborhood, I remember us doing so much for ourselves, on our own. At the age of 5, I walked by myself to kindergarten, which was about 10 minutes away from our house. I had to cross a small street near our house, so my parents taught me how, watched me do it a couple of times, and from then on I was on my own.
My parents taught us how to clean the house, cook, go grocery shopping, and help with other chores at home. Of course, it was a big help for my busy parents. But that wasn’t the point. They wanted us to learn how to do everything so that we are not helpless (or useless) when we leave home. As a teenager, I also worked in different jobs and learned how to earn money.
As a parent, though, I feel trapped between two worlds. The working class world I come from, that did a great job teaching us how to fish, and the upper middle class world where I raise my kids, where we, the parents, overprotect our kids, and indulge them with things they need and things they don’t really need. And by that we do them a disservice.
My upbringing and my instincts made me raise my kids mostly the way I was raised. I’m probably one of the toughest moms in our milieu. I’m pretty demanding, I don’t spoil my kids very often (they say I do), and I believe that despite their young age they are capable of taking responsibility and doing things for themselves. And they do help around the house, and know how to do things on their own. I’m pretty happy with the way they turned out, and I’m very proud of them.
Problem is, when I look around at what other people do, and I hear what my kids say about other parents, I start doubting myself. I love my kids very much. There is no doubt there. But maybe I’m not a very fun and cool parent? Maybe I’m too tough and not spoiling enough?
And that’s where I find myself doing the chores I had assigned for my kids, because I feel bad for them. I walk the dog because it’s vacation, and I feel bad waking up my son so early. I wash the dishes because my daughter has homework to do and she is very busy. I get up extra early in the morning to make the kids sandwiches for school because they were too lazy to make their own sandwiches the night before, and I feel bad letting them suffer the consequences at school. Sometimes, when they misbehave and talk back to me, I spare the rod, even though I know they deserve it. Why? Because I feel sorry for them at the moment, knowing (or hoping) that they feel remorse for what they have said or done. I know however, that in the long run, it doesn’t serve them right.
So hanging between these two worlds, not always sure what’s the right thing to do, I like to reflect on this wise, old proverb
Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.
It anchors me.