The Land of Laundry & Short-Order Cooks (Yes, We are ALL Guilty)

By Lisa Barr

Indulgence. Entitlement. Spoiling.

The Three Cardinal Sins of Suburbia. And YES, we are ALL guilty.

We all LOVE our kids. But my mother-in-law is right when she says, “YOU” (as in This Generation of Parents) are not doing the children any favors by doing everything for them.”

I grew up totally independent so I’ve gone overboard in the “Being There Department” for my kids. I’m ALWAYS there … no matter what. And now that they’re teenagers, I’m paying a bit of a price for OVER-doing, when I should have let them pick up more of their own pieces. If one of my girls forgot a school book or homework at home — it hurt me internally to teach them the “valuable” lesson of leaving the item exactly where they forgot it. Not me. I ran it over to the school like a bat out of hell.

I’ve saved lots of tushies over the years (to the tune of “Thank You, Mommy!”) — but at what price?

It’s not their fault, it’s MINE. Too much of anything is well … too much of everything … and ends up to be too much of nothing.

I know I am far from the only one … A few years back a friend of mine, a terrific Mom of four kids tells a story about one of her sons. This kid is now an Ivy Leaguer with a HUGE future ahead of him. During high school, however, he went out to the local drugstore to buy the girl he had asked to the Homecoming Dance a card. Note: This was the first time he’d ever bought a card by himself. His Mom — who is super-organized, super-fast, super on top of everything, always did all of those “little things” for her kids. But at 17, he wanted to do it himself.

He came back home from the store with The Card, and showed his mother.

She looked at the card, said: “Great card, but hon, where’s the envelope?”

“Envelope?” he asked with surprise. “Cards come with envelopes? I thought YOU do that part.”

Another Mom sent her son off to college. Her son, an athlete, had never done his own laundry. To her defense, she tried teaching him over the years, but who had the patience to wait out the cycles — certainly not him. But before she set her first-born off on his collegiate path … she was very concerned about his lack of laundry skills. She wrote him a play-by-play manifesto of darks, whites, bleach, softener, washing, drying, and the “meaning” behind the cycles. She tried to engage him in this very dull but but very necessary life activity, by making laundry interesting.

When it was time for his first load of laundry, he, no surprise, had lost the manifesto, and his Mom who was thousands of miles away, had to walk him through a basic laundry cycle.

Preparation for life?

Our kids are on every travel team in the book. Our kids are whizzes on the Internet, and are up-to-date on every iPhone app Out There. I ask my kids everything tech-y or having to do with the television (one can no longer simply just turn it on — it’s a 12-step program) because I’m an idiot in that department. But the basics of life — many of them have no clue —  because WE DO EVERYTHING FOR THEM. 

Life on the Suburban Hamster Wheel mandates speed — and WE can do it all better and faster than our kids can — so we do it. That’s all good for now … but what about later? When life is up to THEM?

And then there is the Other Piece. As we do it faster, better, many of us also go OVERBOARD to satisfy them …

Enter the Short Order Cooks.

You don’t like the chicken I made for dinner? I’ll make you noodles. You don’t feel like noodles? I’ll make you grilled cheese. No grilled cheese? Chicken fingers? Pizza bagels? Omelet? Pancakes? You want pancakes but they “touched” the other food on your plate — and now you won’t eat them? I’ll get you a new plate …

This, my friends, is no joke — it’s the real deal. I’ve seen this scenario play out with many parents. In fact, a single Dad came up to me in Starbucks the other day and said that he has to make each of his three young kids separate dinners whenever they come to his house. Note: “has to make.”

Therein lies the problem.

When did we, The Parents, become employees of our children?

Let me just state: I am not preaching. I AM GUILTY!

And I’m trying now to undo all my OVER-doing, and it’s not easy.

I’ve been practicing this: This, kids, like it or hate it, IS dinner. You don’t like it, don’t eat it. But there are NO substitutes. Or (camp-style) go make yourself a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. But NO SHORT-ORDER COOKING IN THIS KITCHEN.

I remember when I was growing up … I had to sit at the table until I finished my plate of food. I remember one particular time staring at “Brussel Sprouts the Enemy” for two hours after everyone had left the table — until I ate the one piece that was there on that hated plate.

Recently, a reader wrote me about a school lunch “scandal” at her Middle School. The volunteer organizer of this particular school had spent HER free time putting together the program (which is a HUGE headache — and that’s a fact not opinion), when she was one-upped by other Moms who went over her head because they did not like the “choices” she had made for their school — rather THEIR kids would not like those choices. Without getting into the details — the situation blew up. And again, NO ONE WAS GETTING PAID HERE. There are always three sides to every story — her side, the other side, and the truth … BUT again, this is taking Short-Order Cookery into the school arena, where it definitely does not belong.

Our kids need to learn to accept those things that they may not like so much — because THAT is reality … life as it turns out, is not always to our taste.

In the real world, once our kids step away from the long overprotective arm of suburbia, they will have to survive and function. They will have to accept other ways of doing things that may not be their first or second choice. Their boss will not spoon feed them like we do. Nor will the boss make sure their veggies don’t “touch” the hamburger on their plate. And all this, I believe, translates into their intimate relationships: Not every day is a picnic. Those who have been raised on their way or the highway, may find themselves against some difficult roadblocks along the way, and not have the necessary tool-set to fix the problem.

It’s not too late — we CAN do this:

1. Teach your children to do the laundry. Not teach but actually DO.

2. Have them make their beds and clean their rooms on a daily basis. Personal responsibility is key to their future.

3. Have them do one thing nice for someone in the family this week that does not somehow benefit them. Chip away at the Me, Me, Me Entitlement Factor.

4. Make dinner of your choosing. And hold tight if your picky eater refuses to eat … You CAN do this.

5.  Have a “carpet talk” with your family, and list a few expectations that will make your family run better. Note the words: family RUN better. Not YOU doing all the running.

I talk to suburban Moms and Dads on a daily basis. The common denominator is that by the end of the day we are all so WIPED OUT. Why? We have given everything. The driving, the racing, the constant-trying-to-satisfy. In the end, there’s lots of frustration — because you simply cannot do it all. Nor do you want to. Nor is it a good thing for any of your Peeps.

Dump the motto:  If I don’t do it, then it doesn’t get done  — Family Life IS a team effort, not a One-Woman-Show.



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