Raising adults who can live alone

I’m asking for trouble with what I’m about to say, I fear.

I don’t have children, so any opinion I voice on the matter of raising them is usually dismissed as worth less than the time taken to voice it. Fair enough. But I am a member of society and I work, live and spend my leisure time alongside people who were once someone’s child, and I have an opinion on some of those people.

My view on parenting is this: the job of a parent is to raise functioning, independent, socially responsible adults. In other words, raising children is about raising adults.

And in order to be an adult, one must be able to take care of oneself (leaving out of this discussion disability and special needs that necessitate special care). Being able to take care of oneself to a large extent defines adulthood. You can’t be independent if you can’t look after yourself.

My particular beef with current parenting tactics is the near-complete absence of basic life skills that parents seem to be imparting to their kids. I watch parents — in cafes and libraries, at home, at social events, and at the messages sent through ads for cleaning products on TV — and what strikes me is how much parents do for their able-bodied children.

I realise parents want to show that they care for their children and take care of them. I’m not proposing a complete abandonment of care. But at some point, all this “doing for” is doing the children a disservice. They are not learning how to do things themselves when you are doing it all for them. It’s like doing their homework for them – they might get an A but really, you got the A and they still know nothing.

If a child is never required to pick up things and put them away, never required to make their bed, never required to learn how to do laundry or pack their own lunch or cook a basic meal or budget their money to save for something they want – if they don’t learn this at home, when do you expect them to learn it? They’re not going to get it at college, and they won’t learn it from their friends who are similarly unskilled. They’re not going to learn it at work (and believe me, I see a lot of the results of this at work – the shared kitchen is testament to people who haven’t learned to clean up after themselves.)

The thing about being able to look after yourself in these ways is that it’s not just about being able to live on your own. It’s also about being able to live with other people. Picking up after yourself means that someone else doesn’t have to put up with your mess. I really feel for the future partners and spouses of these people.

The aforementioned work shared kitchen would be a much nicer place to use if other people didn’t treat it like they treat their parents’ kitchen and expect their mother to tidy up after them. It’s no coincidence that the most common poster in shared work kitchens says “Your mother doesn’t work here”.

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