Monday, March 15, 2010

Is It Time to Let Your Toddler Take Care of Herself?

I am seeing red.

I thought about not writing this post. I almost didn't. I certainly hesitated before publishing it. Because, you see, I like the folks at Parenting magazine. They do some really great stuff. They share some interesting information and links on Twitter. They publish some valuable articles. I am glad that there are publications like this out there.

But I. Am. Mad.

The February edition of Parenting landed in my mailbox over the weekend. There are some good articles in there. I especially liked 5 Big Decisions, a great article with a lot of emphasis on making choices that work for your family. It's a good read and would be especially reassuring to a first-time parent.

But then I stumbled upon this gem:

(Parenting, February 2010, pp 80-84)

I am not sure why I even read this article. I'm an early bird. I'm not looking to get more sleep. My children wake up at sensible, kid-appropriate hours (sometime between 6:45 and 7:15 am, usually) and I'm not looking to change anything.

But I read it.

The gist? Once your children turn three (or, in some cases, even while they're still two!), you can train them to get up by themselves and let you, Queen Mama, remain blissfully asleep.

Mmm hmm. That's right. No need to drag your precious self out of bed to do something so mundane as, say, parent your children. Why not let them take care of all their pesky needs all on their own? The article goes on to provide an opinion from a child psychologist (Lawrence Shapiro-- from MY state!) who asserts:

The benefits won't only be yours. This is not just about Mom and Dad sleeping for another hour. It's about giving your child a chance to learn how to entertain himself, how to make breakfast. That's good for him.

Listen. I'm all about teaching our children to have some independence. Is it good for me to let my five-year old help me scramble the eggs for our breakfast? Yes. Does my four-year old feel like a big girl when I let her help pour her own cereal? Yep. Do I feel comfortable sending both my preschoolers off to a quiet nook to play or read while I accomplish another task? Absolutely.

But this broke my heart...

My sister-in-law, who has four children, has done just that. Her littles ones, ages 4 and 2, know they can't leave their rooms until there's a 7 on the clock. Then they find bowls of dry cereal waiting on the kitchen table. Tiny stickers show them which buttons to press on the remote control to fire up their favorite movie. And Mom, blissfully, sleeps until 8 a.m.

In all fairness, I do not know the woman about whom this is written and she may be a truly wonderful mom. I wouldn't dream of suggesting otherwise. But this morning routine is just, well, sad to me. Who thinks that's a warm, loving way to kick off your child's day? I really can't even fathom sending my 4-year old, let alone a 2-year old, out to face her day alone.

The article does provide a chart to help you determine if your child is "ready" for "morning 'alone' time". This basically helps you determine if you have a quiet, rule-following kind of a kid. If so, feel free to let him fend for himself. (Okay, not in so many words, but that's the overall message here... let me know if you interpret it a different way.)

Perhaps the most depressing part of the whole thing, for me, came at the end of the article. It's the segment entitled, "Step 3 > Start the day (without you)"

This portion of the article talks about how to "train" your little one to take care of her basic needs without your help. From setting out outfit choices (and letting her know she is not permitted to wake you until she is dressed) to leaving dry cereal and a juice box in her room (so she can feed herself without bothering you), this segment extols the virtues of these tricks as helping to make mornings less hectic. You know what would make morning less hectic? GETTING UP AND GETTING SOMETHING DONE. If all else fails, the paragraph goes on to say, let your child hang out in your bed and watch T.V. while you continue to snooze.

I'm sorry, Parenting, but I am mortified. Are there mornings when I'd enjoy catching a few more zzzz's? Of course. I'm a mom. I'm one of a notoriously sleep-deprived breed. I'd also love to run my errands without having to corral three little ones sometimes but that doesn't mean I just leave them in the house or car. They are MY children. I CHOSE to have them. More than that, I am BLESSED to have them. I cannot even imagine feeling the kind of selfish entitlement that is shown in this article... as if my desire to sleep in should come before my precious children's need for my time and attention. I'm not saying that their suggestions necessarily put these children in danger or that their physical needs are not being met...

But... really?

Is that the best we want to do? To say at the end of the day, "I kept my kids safe, clothed, and fed and that's good enough."

It's not good enough for me. I will continue to rise before my family and have their breakfast waiting for them. I will continue to help my preschool daughter with her leggings and buttons and zippers. I will help them become independent, capable children by allowing them to work alongside me... not by expecting them to take care of themselves and relying on the T.V to take care of their entertainment.

My kids need me in the morning. And that's A-OK with me. I'll sleep in when they're teens.

But enough from opinionated me. What do YOU think? Do you let your children take care of themselves so you can get much-needed rest? Am I being too sensitive? Let's discuss it in the comments!

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