How Doing Less Made Me a Better Parent

After suffering from some random aches and pains (hello middle age!) and working way too hard for too many decades, I finally hit a physical and emotional breaking point a few years ago. I realized that I needed more rest and that I needed to do less of everything. I also realized I needed to focus more on breathing and enjoying the little things.

As a parent, I read and learned about the importance of putting on my own oxygen mask first. The problem was, I wasn’t doing it. So many of the parents I talk to – generally those who are about a decade younger than I am – are doing exactly what I did at that age. And that was putting on everyone else’s oxygen masks and then collapsing.

I’ve started to take much better care of myself over the past two years, and I’m much more focused on the things I need to do for my own well-being. I’m doing things I used to enjoy but thought I “didn’t have time” for anymore – like taking baths, reading, listening to music, and getting together with friends.

I start each day by my fireplace, coffee in hand, reading and journaling.

I’ve learned that I don’t have to do all the things I thought I needed to do, and that being a good-enough parent is, well, good enough. I’ve seen that by taking care of myself and being well-rested and in a better mood, I’m much more present and positive with my kids. I’m a better mom even though I’m doing less for them. In fact, I think it’s because I’m doing less for them that I’m a better mom!

Many recent best-selling parenting books share this same message:

Stop doing your kids’ homework!

Let them walk (or ride their bike) to school by themselves!

Stop making calls for them!

Make them do chores!

Have them manage their own money!

I’m a huge believer in being a hands-on, nurturing parent, and the younger kids are, the more they need our moment-to-moment care and assistance. But there comes a time (and it’s younger than most parents might think) that we need to step back, do LESS for our kids, and let them do MORE for themselves.

With my youngest now 14, I’ve definitely reached the “less is more” phase of parenting, so I thought I’d share with you 10 ways I’m doing less for my kids.

#1 Less talking

Especially with my boys, I talk too much. They get in the car after school or sports, and I pepper them with questions, to which I get some very unrewarding replies. But I’ve found, when I shut my mouth, they occasionally pipe up with a story or something important. When I talk less, and drive more in silence, they end up talking more.

#2 Less laundry

I’ve long been a proponent of kids doing their own laundry, and for the past four years, I’ve only washed and folded my own clothes and household laundry (sheets, towels, dish rags). Everyone here does their own laundry. Less laundry for me means my kids are all competent at doing their own, well before they leave for college and adult life. A win-win for sure!

#3 Less cooking

This morning, I found my 14-year-old washing a pan after cooking and eating some eggs for breakfast. Now, this is not a normal situation in our house, because said 14-year-old enjoys sleeping in to the last possible moment. But apparently my husband challenged him last night to get up a bit earlier so that he wouldn’t be rushed getting off to school. He met the challenge, and I could tell he felt great about doing something for himself. All kids, I think, should help with meal prep and cook some basic dinners for the family. Washing lettuce for salads, chopping vegetables, and browning meat for tacos are all activities I do less of these days thanks to the budding chefs in my home.

#4 Less stepping in and correcting, doing it “my way”

This one is really hard for me, but I’m convinced it’s something I need to work on. I need to be less concerned about things getting done my way and more concerned about my kids figuring stuff out without me hovering over them.

#5 Less bustling around doing things for my kids

Whenever I find myself doing a bunch of household chores and tasks while my kids play video games, I need to STOP and figure out what they can help with. “Serving” our children like this leads them to become the type of employees companies DO NOT want. Believe me, I know this from our summer camp. The counselors who are self-starters and hard workers are the best employees and a pleasure to work with. And the ones who seem to always be waiting for Mom to step in and fix it, clean it, or finish it are painful to work with. I need to do less so that my kids will be the kind of adults who do more.

#6 Less “helping” with homework

I’ve always loved school and reading and all aspects of the whole process. I love binders, dividers, and assignments. I literally have to sit on my hands to keep from picking up a pile of disheveled papers, 3-hole punching them, and arranging them in a binder with tabbed dividers. But, my kids are doing fine in school and they only infrequently forget or lose an assignment. The occasional lost page is good for them, because they learn quickly not to do it again. In the area of homework, less helping is better.

#7 Fewer rewards and gifts

I was talking to a babysitter who watches a 4-year-old regularly. This little girl gets gifts constantly for doing things that should just be expected of any child her age. Our kids do not need gifts for doing things that are expected of them. In fact, we do our kids a huge disservice by rewarding them for things that should become intrinsically satisfying. The reward for a good grade should not be money! In fact, giving rewards decreases the natural feeling of accomplishment and pride that comes from a job well done and the resulting intrinsic motivation. Nobody will give our kids stars and bonuses just for doing what they are supposed to do, so we shouldn’t either. Fun gifts and encouraging notes just because we love them are far better than a gift tied to something they did.

#8 Less making kids and their schedules the center of everything

Martyrdom parenting, where we focus our entire existence on our kids’ happiness, is ridiculous. Not only is it making us stressed and unhappy, it’s not good for them. Our kids should not feel that the world, or our family, revolves around them. We parents need our own hobbies and interests, and there needs to be a balance in the family schedule of how we spend our time. The extreme example (one I know will upset many parents) is certain club sports, which require that the family’s entire calendar—including most weekends—revolve around one child’s sport. Vacations and weekends, I think, need to be spent doing things the whole family enjoys. I love watching my kids play sports, but I’m not spending my whole life doing only that.

#9 Less structuring of play

Kids need to play and figure out what to do with friends, so we shouldn’t feel compelled to haul them to a trampoline park or mini golf course just so they can have “something to do.” Let them use their imaginations more and your time (and gasoline) less. Learning to entertain themselves and spend time with friends are important life skills, and if you’re like me, you have a garage full of stuff. Open the doors, remind your kids where that stuff is, and let them figure out what to do next.

#10 Fewer spectator comments

Our coaching from the sidelines does not help our kids. Let them play. Let their coach do the coaching. We need to be quiet except for saying positive, encouraging things to our budding athletes. They will appreciate it.

So, there you have it: the things I think we parents can do less of to help our kids be more competent. As an added bonus to our doing less for our kids, our days will be less stressful and more enjoyable. And being less stressed also makes us a more effective parent.

This week, why not take some time to do less for your kids and more for yourself?

10 Ways to do LESS and be a MORE Effective ParentRelated:
Let the Kids Cook Dinner
Ready for Adulthood Check-List for Kids
How Camp Helps Parents Raise Adults
Why Kids Need to Feel Needed

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes
How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success
The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed

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