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Vail Family: Less pampering will help our kids

Jill Marchione Papangelis
Family Matters
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –My mother cut my meat for me. Until I was a teenager. That should give some hint of insight into the kind of mother I became.

I have four kids and when they were little, I actually peeled their grapes if they didn’t like the skin. I would literally stand there at the kitchen counter, take my paring knife to the lovely, fragile grape, and delicately tear back the skin as if I were performing a circumcision. My kids were home-schooled for many years, so I was also their short order cook – I took four different orders for breakfast, happily preparing four different feasts.

The sick and twisted part of this was I loved it. Nothing pleased me more than pampering these small folks. They really appreciated it too, not like many kids out there who ruthlessly took their parents for granted. My kids were – and still are – appreciative, thoughtful and kind, eagerly complimenting my cooking while at the same time tossing me their laundry.

What could be better than that? This is the goal, right? Kind, courteous kids who give you a smile as you scrub their bathtub and say thanks for driving all over town to pick up and deliver their friends at all hours on Saturday.

In my travels, however, there is one thing I’ve noticed above all. Kids in the rest of the world are not spoiled this way. This over-indulging of children is strictly an American tradition and, I’m afraid, is quickly replacing baseball as the national pastime.

My first clue that this was, perhaps, not the ideal way to parent was when my oldest son went off to college. The poor kid couldn’t do a load of laundry, couldn’t clean a toilet, could barely brush his own teeth –you get the picture. I thought I was doing so much for him all those years at home, freeing up his time to concentrate on his studies, sports and friends. I was being the ultimate mom, right? Unfortunately, I may have missed the bigger picture. Because at the end of the day, isn’t our aim to raise courteous kids, yes, but also capable, self-reliant adults who can match their own socks?

Increasingly, studies show our children can’t compete in the marketplace. Our kids are becoming lazier, they are poor time managers and have little to no accountability. They quit when things get tough. In short, more and more kids are expecting less of themselves. Could it be that we as parents are expecting less and less of them too?

My 16 year-old son, who attended Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy last year, had an extraordinary and impressive gentleman, originally from Tanzania, come to the school as a guest speaker. My son was astonished by this man’s upbringing. The gentleman talked about his family life, explaining that the children in his culture did everything for the parents. The same is true in many parts of the world where often men and women conceive children simply to help families subsist.

The idea of parents in servitude to their children was completely foreign to this gentleman. “Not so foreign to me,” I said, as I organized my son’s shelves and brought him a fruit and cheese plate.

Recent studies show less than 20 percent of children help set the table each night for dinner. As few as 3 percent know how to balance a checkbook.

As a person who defines myself by the kind of mother I am, I want to make sure my three kids still at home benefit from a more balanced workload. Occasionally interrupting their homework, after-school activities, or all-important texting, to teach them about finances, managing their time, cooking a balanced meal, and (dare I say?) doing their own laundry may be the best gift I can give them as a parent.

I’ll try to cut back my pampering and compel them to look after themselves. Perhaps if we, as parents, expect great things of our children, pushing them to become a little more self-sufficient each year, they too might expect great things of themselves and grow to be the talented, industrious individuals we know they are meant to be.

Update: My oldest is doing fine and made himself a lasagna last night. I explained it over the phone. Perhaps it’s never too late.

Jill Marchione Papangelis is a freelance writer and mother of four. She lives in Edwards with her family. Send column suggestions or comments to jillscolumn@gmail.com.


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