Failure to launch, narcissism, entitlement — all of these traits are becoming increasingly common issues for today’s parents. What used to be the normal outcome of parenting —independent kids — is becoming harder to achieve. In her book, Cleaning House, A Mom’s 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement, author Kay Wyma lets readers in on her year-long attempt to rid her kids of their self-absorbed mentality.
Her experiment is simple: Sort basic life skills into 12 categories and see to it that her five children learn a new skill each month. Wyma’s approach is doable, digestible, and humorously disagreeable to her kids. But what impresses me most is that this mom has the tenacity to see her experiment through to completion.
If you’re constantly picking up after your kids, or flying in to rescue them, this book is for you. Forget self-esteem and soccer practice; here is what we should really be teaching our kids.
Memphis Parent: How did you come up with this idea?
Kay Wyma: The realization came to me that my kids were looking to me to serve them everything and I was grooming them to be needy. Yet I knew this countered what I was telling them: that they could do anything they put their minds to. What happens when kids believe that? It enables them to overcome obstacles. But we send the glaring message of you can’t when we do everything for them.
MP: What was the hardest part of implementing this concept?
Wyma: Keeping my grubby hands off! I wish I were joking when I say I am a recovering procrastinator and enabler, but I’m not. I’m also not good at some of the things I set out to teach my children. So when I attempted to teach them things I didn’t know how to do, not only did we all grow but it also showed them how to learn new things. Also, I’m not organized. And I’m tempted to let things like an unmade bed slide. I had to constantly keep in mind that without the consequences, I wouldn’t get the results I was looking for.
MP: Why do we cripple our kids with the entitlement mentality when we know better?
Wyma: Competitiveness among parents is what fuels it; parenting peer pressure. We’re afraid our kids will fail so we do too much for them. It’s ironic that we warn our kids about peer pressure and forget to ask, “What about me?” I grew up privileged; much of my young life consisted of tennis, lying poolside, I even got a brand new car at 16. Yet my father instilled two principles into me: hard work and that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. He wasn’t afraid to let me try and fail.
MP: What is the biggest change you see in your kids as a result of this experiment?
Wymna: They are gaining confidence. Their reflex used to be to run to me; they don’t do that anymore. They’ll try to figure it out on their own, and often ask each other. Having confidence helps them know their purpose, that each is a necessary cog. If I had known that this was going to be the result, I would have done this a long time ago!
MP: Have they complained about the experiment?
Wyma: Oh, yes, plenty. A friend of mine gave me good advice, though. She said, “Do not engage.” I ignore them and I don’t let it stop me.
MP: Speak to the parent who wants to change. How do we start?
Wyma: It’s very important to ask the question, why do I do rescue them? In a recent parenting blog post, Dr. Meg Meeker nailed it: At the end of the day, we love [our kids] and we’re afraid to let them fail. After all, other parents are checking homework and filling out applications, and that is who our kids will be competing against. (Read the post: megmeekermd.com/2011/10/never-parent-out-of-fear/)
MP: You write about constantly seeking to widen a child’s boundaries. How do we do that?
Wyma: Kids thrive on high expectations just like adults do. It’s much like teaching kids how to ride a bike: first training wheels, then holding them with both hands, then one hand, and finally letting go. Ask yourself: At what point does it become uncomfortable for me to let go and allow my child do something themselves? That is the point where you need to widen the boundary.
MP: A final word to help parents keep going when they want to give up?
Wyma: That’s where community comes in. Before I started, I gathered a group of friends around me, read blog posts, and listened. Find wise folks who aren’t in the middle of it. Advice coming from a mentor is different than another parent who is in the trenches with you. Just keep going, be authentic, and be honest.
— Read more from Kay Wills Wyma at The MOAT Blog (Mothers of Adolescence and Teenagers), because no mom should walk (or drive) the road alone. • themoatblog.com
Cleaning House: A Mom's 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement by Kay Wills Wyma - Waterbrook Multnomah (Random House) • $9.99