Thursday, October 3, 2013

Do we give our kids too much.....

1. Help with schoolwork?  
I decided to write this post about the different things we give our kids - how much is too much and whether it's always a good idea, or a bad one.  Since each and every one of them popped out without an instruction manual, we've more or less been stumbling our way through parenthood, sometimes reaching success, sometimes facing failure, but persevering all the same.  The reason it came up now, is because of the following event that happened earlier this week:
One of my kids came to me with a project they had to do for school.  It was an English project about travel and - kudos to the teacher - it was quite clearly laid out.  
The work sheet was clearly organized into the different parts of the project and if you worked methodically, you could easily get it done in time.  My daughter chose to do her project on Italy.  Considering she's been there twice before the age of 13, it was a smart move on her part.  She could write honestly about her experiences and she had enough pictures to choose from to fill a 100 page album.  She asked me for help.  I told her to read the work sheet through carefully and then work section by section until she finished the work.  She immediately got frustrated, threw the paper up in the air and stormed off.  She's not unique in this: each of my kids at one time or another have had the same reaction.  I realized that she didn't want my help at all.  She wanted to me spoonfeed it to her, telling her specifically what to do and how to do it.  In other words, she wanted ME to do it.  Whether it's anxiety about where to start or the fact that she had to utilize her brain on something other than Candy Crush, it still meant work, effort and time and she figured it'd be a heck of a lot easier if she just directed me to the project and hung back until the work was done.  As mothers, we all are guilty of having done this at some point in our lives as parents.  Show me a parent who claims never to have done part of their child's school project and I'll tell you she's lying.  A few years ago I made the most amazing diorama for one of my kids - my God, it was gorgeous - a truly stunning piece of artwork if I do say so myself.  While organizing some long-forgotten corner in the house, I came across it recently, really looked at it and chuckled.  Did the teacher seriously think that an 8 year old came up with that all on her own?  Teachers - in general - were not born yesterday.  They know that a good percentage of kids come with projects that their moms or dads made.  Why they don't call us to task on it is a whole other question, but are we really doing our kids a favor by holding their hands the entire way?  I decided that she's capable of doing this Italy project on her own and while I have no problem whatsoever helping her with grammatical mistakes, or collating the work, or giving some guidance, I will not get my hands dirty on this one.  

2. Money?  
This is a tough one.  When our kids need something, our instinct is to provide it.  But as our kids get older and older, when is it ok for us to stop reaching into our wallets?  And should we decide what is worth funding and what isn't?  Both my husband and I encourage our kids to make their own money - it's something we've been doing since our kids were young.  My son is going to Poland this week and we went on a shopping spree for his trip.  It's going to be about 0 degrees there and having been born in Israel, he has no clue what 0 even means.  We went to buy waterproof hiking shoes, thermal underwear, a thermos, warm socks, a heavy fleece sweatshirt and some other basics.  The trip alone isn't cheap and I just hadn't anticipated how much extra it would cost us to get him the because of something stupid like the weather.  I didn't say a word about it, but when we got home, our arms filled with shopping bags, the first thing he did was dump the bags on the floor and whip out all the reciepts along with a calculator.  After a minute or so, he wrote a number down on a piece of paper, stuck it in my hand and said, "this is what I owe you."  I was a little stunned - I haven't yet decided whether he will pay me back for the entire amount or part of it, but I was touched that he had no expectation whatsoever that I was responsible to pay for what he saw as his financial responsibility.  (This is irrespective of the fact that he is paying for half of the trip...) Every parent will make their own rules about this - I for one, buy my kids necessities: school supplies, sneakers, some clothing every once in a while and toiletries.  But I don't pay for their bowling games, their movies, their accessories, their freezies or their nailpolish.  I will pay for books at Steimetzky or Tzomet Sfarim because I believe that getting your child to read is a priority, so I'm happy to spring for that.  And I pay for my daughter's many journals that she keeps because I like the fact that she writes and want to encourage that.  But giving your kids money all the time, whenever they ask for it is not doing them any favors in the long run....

3. Responsibilties?
Again, each house has their own rules and runs differently, but I don't think that giving your child too many responsiblities is a bag thing.  And changing that up every once in a while is a very good thing.  Push your kids out of their comfort zone a bit - let them get their hands dirty with something they've never done before.  They'll fight you on it, claim they can't do it nor should they have to, but when it gets done, they'll be proud of themselves.  As I said before, I had to do some pre-Poland shopping for my son and as I don't finish work until after 6:30, I knew I wouldn't have enough time to make dinner, eat it with my family, then get to the mall before it closed.  So I said to my son that if he wanted to go shopping with me, he'd have to make dinner.  He's not a stranger to the kitchen - he's rather a whiz in there - but he's more of a sous-chef or on BBQ duty as opposed to making a recipe from my latest issue of Bon Appetit.  But I gave him the recipe anyways, read it over with him to clarify any questions he had and then went back to work, hoping for the best.  The aroma of garlic and soy that wafted out of my kitchen while I was teaching made it hard for me to concentrate.  We sat down to dinner and the chicken was out-of-this-world amazing.  Seriously.  (See recipe below...) We all complimented him on a job well done.  Many times as we oohed and aahed and devoured dinner.  He said jokingly that he was hoping it didn't turn out great and when I asked why, he said because now that it came out so great, he knew I'd ask him to make it again.  And again.  And probably again.  He's 100% right - he doesn't know it yet, but he's going to making dinner a heck of a lot more around here.  But the look on his face was priceless.  Giving a kid responsibilities only strengthens their self-esteem.  And if there's only one gift that you can give your kid, make it self-esteem.  More than knowledge, more than opportunity, self-esteem is what can transform your child into a confident, successful adult in both his/her personal and professional life.

4. Positive encouragement?
That's an easy one.  I've always believed that you can never give your child enough positive encouragement.  It goes back to the whole self-esteem issue, but it can stand on its own as well.  My kids have come up with their own cockamamie ideas, bizarre inventions and nutty creations, but scoffing at them or laughing it off just stifles their creativity.  Sometimes I quietly shake my head as I wonder what my son is going to do with his newly designed Nerf gun.  Yes, he totally took it apart and retro-fitted it so that it shoots those Nerf bullets out at triple the speed (I have bruises on my arm to prove that) and then spray-painted the entire thing black so it didn't look like a kids' toy anymore. The house stunk of paint for a couple of hours and he and his sister get into some serious Nerf battle-wars that occasionally need to be broken up but I love his sense of creativity.  Sick of his sister coming into his room without permission, he once rigged his door so that she got whacked in the face by something he had strung up from the ceiling that was triggered to snap into action once the doors was opened "illegally".  While I wasn't appreciative of the fact that his sister got hurt, I once again was awed by the way his brain worked.  Who knows?  Maybe once day he'll design better guns for the Israeli army or devise some kind of security system against all has to start somewhere and we should let their creative juices flow freely instead of stomping all over them.

Ezra's Caramel Chicken - adapted from Bon Appetit


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  •  pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken legs and thighs
  • Kosher salt
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled
  •  cup (packed) brown sugar
  • ¼ cup (or more) unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 slices ¼"-thick slices peeled ginger - optional
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Cooked white rice (for serving)

  • Heat oil in a large wide heavy pot over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and, working in 2 batches, cook until golden brown and crisp, 6–8 minutes per side; transfer to a plate. Add garlic to pot and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 2 minutes; transfer to plate with chicken. Pour off fat from pot.  Return pot to medium-high heat and add ½ cup water, scraping up browned bits. Add brown sugar; stir to dissolve, then cook, stirring, until mixture thickens and turns a deep amber color, about 4 minutes. Carefully add vinegar (it may bubble up; sugar will crystallize); stir to dissolve sugar.  Add ginger, broth, and soy sauce, then add chicken, skin side up, and garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently until chicken is cooked through, 20–25 minutes. Top with scallions and serve with rice.

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