Home Education, Other Thoughts

The Importance of Independent Children (A Low-Energy Moms Post)

June 16, 2016 by Brandy Vencel

I am of the school of thought that it is important for children to be independent regardless of the mother’s energy status. However, comma, I have seen the benefits of fostering independence on my bad days — so much so that I’ve decided that while normal- and high-energy moms might be able to get away with doing everything (or most things) for their children, the low-energy mom is missing a big key to success if she skips this element of childrearing.

Being low-energy and thriving at homeschooling means training your children to be independent. Today, we present five principles of independence!

Sometimes it is said that children are “independent” when what is really meant is that they are difficult — they have trouble submitting their wills to authority and they are slaves to their own passions.

That’s not what I mean.

I’m thinking more along the lines of what is ultimately required in becoming an adult. If we think of adulthood as a state of independence in the sense of not needing someone else to take care of us, we can view childhood and the process of growing up as a journey taking us from point A (absolute dependence) to point B (independence — the ability to take care of and have responsibility for ourselves).

Last weekend, I came down with a little bug. I had far less energy to contribute to the running of the household. Shockingly, there were still things that needed to be done. For example, people expected to eat meals with regularity. I don’t know about you, but we do not have the budget to eat out every time Mom is under the weather.

On Saturday around lunchtime, I was assembling something that had arrived in the mail, and I couldn’t be in two places at once. Q-Age-9 offered to make tuna salad for lunch. Not a big deal, right? Open some cans of tuna, add some mayo and salt — and at our house we add diced apples. She served it on some mixed greens with tomatoes from a friend’s garden. Lunch problem solved. By dinner time, I was incredibly fatigued after trying to work through my cold, so I threw together some pasta with sauce (gasp!) from a jar. O-Age-7 volunteered to make a salad to go with it. This is one reason I love my Salad Shooter — even little guys can make an impressive salad.

See how helpful this is? Because the children have been trained in making some simple, basic meals or side dishes, meal time didn’t have to be stressful or overwhelming.

Two years ago, I wrote an extensive series on helping children become more independent. That post has a lot of details and suggestions on how to do this, including a lot of nitty gritty on independence specifically related to the process of homeschooling. If you want those kinds of details, make sure you read that series. Today, I just want to focus on some basic principles concerning independence generally.

Principle 1: If you want them to be able to do it when you need them to do it, you need to teach them to do it before you need them to do it.

The middle of a crisis isn’t the time to start training kids to Do The Things. Normal, average days are. This is called “being prepared” and it’s generally good practice. Let’s say this past school year was really super hard. Okay, then, what are some practical things that you can train your children to do this summer that will help next year go more smoothly?

I remember the year I realized that our school day would go better if I trained one of the girls to wipe down the dining table after breakfast. It’s a small thing, but having a child do that freed me up to help my toddler get dressed before lessons started.

It felt revolutionary at the time.

One awesome thing to do in the summer months is to teach children to cook. They need to know how to do this before they leave home, so why not start with some basic things now?

Think about your worst days. What is the hardest thing about them? What falls apart? Is there something you can train a child to do to help mitigate the problems?

Principle 2: Don’t view training as a waste of time.

“It’s so much easier to do it myself than to train my preschooler to help.”

If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard that, I would have almost enough to buy myself a drink at Starbucks. (Obviously, Starbucks is overpriced, because that is actually a lot of pennies.)

So here’s the thing: it’s true that it takes more time for a 2-year-old to help fill up the laundry basket than for me to do it alone. It’s true that it’s easier to clean the bathroom myself than to spend the time teaching someone else how to do it.

But it’s also true that it’s easier to read aloud to my child than it is to teach him how to read, and yet it’s pretty inhumane not to try and teach him how, isn’t it?

Training children now is like saving up for a rainy day — someday the rain will come, and you’ll need to cash in that emergency fund. And just like all those people who bought iPads and ate out too much instead of saving, those of us who don’t train our kids find that the rainy days are really overwhelming.

Principle 3: Incompetence is unfair to children.

“Oh, but I feel so bad asking my kids to do things. I just want them to have fun and enjoy life.”

Okay, I haven’t heard this one as much, but I have heard it, so I thought I’d address it. You know what? Cleaning a bathroom might be annoying to a child who wants to go play, but it’s not crushing. You know what is crushing? Feeling completely helpless when things are falling apart in your family because you don’t know how to do anything.

I have seen so many times where children were beaming with pride that they could help out in some situation where people might not have expected it. Kids love the feeling that they really helped.

Have you ever felt that antsy, climbing the walls feeling? You knew something was wrong in the life of someone you loved, but you were too far away to help? Our kids can feel this way a lot, if we’re not careful. When Mom is chronically ill, children can end up feeling this way all. the. time. It’s stressful, and it’s unfair to children who are old enough to do a few things to help.

I’m not talking about expecting children to be adults, but we don’t want to err on the opposite extreme and create a situation in which children feel helpless and therefore unsafe. It is easier for a child to make dinner and feel the pride of helping out than it is for that child to fret and worry about everything that Mom can’t take care of.

Principle 4: Don’t be afraid to pay them for their work.

We don’t pay for normal, everyday stuff. We also don’t pay for helping out when Mom is sick. Life consists of normal everyday stuff and of helping out when someone in the family is sick. We don’t pay for life. (I’m not saying it’s bad if you do; we just don’t.) But I do pay when I consider a child doing my job. This is totally subjective, but if I feel guilty asking someone to do it, my rule of thumb is to pay for it.

Usually, this is a one-time thing. I was planning to do something, but I ran out of energy. I pay someone else to do it. The end.

Last year, I actually hired a child on a more permanent basis. I realized that I needed to give over the job of cleaning the showers. I was always sick the day after cleaning the showers — and sometimes as many as three days after. Because of that, I would put off cleaning them — I was trying to find times where I could sacrifice a number of days afterwards, and it was hard to find that many clear days in my schedule. At the same time, I had a child complaining that she “didn’t have enough money.” (She was trying to buy some plants for her garden.) It seemed providential. I figured we could work out a deal, and we did. She now cleans the showers, and I pay her to do it.

Principle 5: Beware not pulling your own weight.

Since everything above is about how great it is to teach children to be more independent, I thought I’d give a caveat.

Most of you are not lazy. We’re going to talk about laziness and sloth in the future, but let me repeat that most of you are not lazy. I know this, because you worry about being lazy. You tell me you feel like you’re not doing enough. You’re obsessed with the unchecked boxes on your to do lists.

The truly lazy people I know are never worried about that; they are always worried that people aren’t helping them out enough. They are obsessed with their own need for help, placing expectations on everyone else for help, and taking no responsibility for their own situations.

Those of you who have been emailing me throughout this series don’t fit this description at all!

But with this said, I have encountered a few moms who essentially gave over the entire running of their households to their children. Sometimes, this was even a necessity when it first began.

I find that if I don’t do enough work, I am extremely dissatisfied. Freeloaders usually are, you know. So make sure you’re doing enough work.

I can’t tell you where the line is in your own life, but I do think it’s worth the caution. Independence is beautifully freeing for children. But they still need to feel like they have a mother — a real mother. One who makes the soup and washes the clothes and generally keeps them feeling safe and loved. Don’t pass off too much.


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18 Comments

  • Reply Don't Forget the Literacy! (A Low-Energy Mom's Guide Post) | Afterthoughts August 28, 2019 at 4:27 pm

    […] already talked about this when we talked more generally about independent children. The ultimate goal of childrearing is adulthood. We expect our children to eventually be like […]

  • Reply Trina August 23, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    I just need a word of encouragement. I have a 4.5, 3, and 8 month old. I have a rule that we dress before breakfast, set the table, wait until everyone is sitting, say grace before eating, and clear our own dishes. They refuse to do much of this with or without supervision. I then generally try to involve them in the simpler tasks of cleaning the kitchen (silverware, wiping counters…) The problem is on more days than not, they just refuse. Punishments don’t work, making it fun does not work “letting it go” several days in a row does not work (for my sanity) and all day long I give notices to my 4 yr old “please clean up your (supplies) before starting a new activity” and “let’s clean up these blocks before we go eat snack” to the 3 year old. Flat out refusals, whining, “you do it” “Im too tired” (but refuses any suggestion of rest) etc. I feel taken hostage by my kids and do not know how to train them. They just refuse. Dad pitches in. What am I missing? Are they too Young? When I gave regular consequences for these disobedient acts, their behavior escalated. They resorted to scratching and kicking when I would have to pick them up to carry them to time out, and destroying property. So I try a more “ignore the bad, reward the good” approach which still does nothing for the outright refusal of basic requests. Just managing my emotional reactions is totally exhausting me! Any words of wisdom?

  • Reply Christine August 4, 2017 at 7:18 am

    As a seventh daughter of eight girls, I was never expected to help with anything. My mom was so tired when I was in high school and just expected me to everything when my sisters all left. It was destructive to our relationship for her to angry with me instead of helping me learn cleaning and cooking skills. I eventually learned and loved domestic tasks when I got married. Although I played catch up by calling her every day asking her questions. Now, as a low energy mother of six, I have to help my kids learn to pitch in, and they do. Even my son with Down Syndrome loves to help.

  • Reply Christa August 3, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    “Training children now is like saving up for a rainy day — someday the rain will come, and you’ll need to cash in that emergency fund.”

    I love this quote. Now that the boys are 10-15, they are volunteering to cook breakfast or lunch often, and they trade off as dishwasher-loader. A new day is dawning, which is good, but because now I really have to think to grade their other work.

  • Reply Claire June 20, 2016 at 4:10 am

    “Cleaning a bathroom might be annoying to a child who wants to go play, but it’s not devastating.”
    Ha! Tell that to my 7yo! Some days, just pointing out to her that she needs to do her regular, daily chores (which I promise are not arduous) will have her in a foetal position on the floor!

    But I do appreciate the ideas in this post. I need to think more about the paying for stuff one… Maybe I could halve their pocket money and make up the difference with paid chores…

    Re: training as a waste of time – I made housework our official handicraft one term (we worked through some of the Like Mother Like Daughter posts). This allowed me to feel less stressed about the time it was taking to train, as it was officially school work/time. I was also able to think about how/when to fit our ‘sparkle and shine’ into our daily routine while we spent a term getting the hang of it. I’m planning to do something similar with vegetable gardening in our next Spring term.

  • Reply Melissa June 17, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Great post Brandy…I couldn’t agree more with each of your points! I think training kids in more major culinary skills is ideal around age 9-11.

    We don’t pay ‘allowance’ either, but the kids do get money for extra work, such as when our 11 year old helped his dad log this past winter or added farm chores such as making hay. Our 12 year old also has a babysitting job away from home, which is a fabulous way for kids to earn extra cash and see the value of work = pay.

    I’ll be linking this post to Friday Findings next week!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 17, 2016 at 12:46 pm

      Logging! Wow! That is amazing!

      I didn’t say this in the post, but one of the reasons we started out as a no allowance family is because our children were repeatedly given money by relatives for birthdays and Christmas — they ended up with more spending money than ME and their view of the value of money was really diluted. We started putting some of that money into bank accounts for them instead — what 3-year-old needs $50? 🙂

  • Reply Amber Vanderpol June 16, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    I saw the title of your blog post in my email and wanted to read it… so in order to linger at the lunch table a little longer, I asked my two year old to put herself down for a nap. That wasn’t successful, but my four year old jumped in and offered to walk her off. They trundled upstairs, hand in hand, and all went well until the actual put in the crib part. I heard squawking and my 10 yr went running up to the rescue. I heard them helping with blankies and the like, and she got all settled for her nap while I finished my melon and read your post. Now is that a win or what? 😀

    Great points – and a good reminder that I need to get my kids more competent in the kitchen. They are great slicers, dicers and stirrers at this point, but I’m always there directing everything. When I’m not there, it takes my kids about 3x as long and there are innumerable questions. But it would be really great if they could make a meal without me needing to be in the kitchen, and if they could do it in a timely manner! I had to turn over a lot of cleaning to them in a time of crisis – thankfully they had some training, but it was a rough transition.

    And thanks for the link to your previous series – I had forgotten about that one!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 17, 2016 at 12:47 pm

      I’m impressed that they got her to bed! I loved that story…

  • Reply Monica Fearnside June 16, 2016 at 9:03 am

    Thank you, again, for this series. Sometimes the mom-guilt is overwhelming! We can only do what we can do.

    Love the practicality of all you’ve share so far.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 17, 2016 at 12:47 pm

      Thanks, Monica! And…you’re welcome. 🙂 ♥

  • Reply Ellen June 16, 2016 at 8:24 am

    There was a free kindle book recently called “Mix and Match Recipes.” My boys always want to invent recipes of their own, so this will give them some freedom within limits. I think we’ll start with the soup and the muffins. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 16, 2016 at 9:38 am

      Ooh! I will have to look that up — my little guy is the one that likes to be inventive; he might really enjoy that! Thank you!

  • Reply Ellen June 16, 2016 at 8:16 am

    My oldest son is wanting to learn how to cook this summer, so this post was the push I needed to get going. I’m curious to hear more about the salad shooter and how it makes it easier for kids to cook. I have a large food processor, but I don’t use it much because it has a lot of parts and is hard to clean.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 16, 2016 at 9:37 am

      The salad shooter has been amazing! I’ve had mine for many years now. I’m thinking 2 main reasons I like it so much. The first is that I don’t have to monitor closely because there isn’t nearly as much knife work. But also, second, because it makes the cutting so much faster — no getting tired in the middle of the job. 🙂 There are two main attachments I use: grating and slicing. My little guy likes to grate everything but the lettuce into the salad, so radishes, carrots, beets — almost everything except tomatoes can be run through it. Celery and cucumbers need the slicing attachment. They’ve also used the slicing attachment to cut up soup ingredients. It’s been super handy. There are other tools that do similar things, but I find they require me to do a lot more supervision, versus with this I can walk away once they are 6 or 7 and they are fine. Afterwards, we just rinse it, unless it’s really grimy, in which case we follow up with putting it in the dishwasher. 🙂

  • Reply Catie June 16, 2016 at 6:38 am

    “Have you ever felt that antsy, climbing the walls feeling? You knew something was wrong in the life of someone you loved, but you were too far away to help? Our kids can feel this way a lot, if we’re not careful.” I love this. I’ve not really thought about that before.

    And I love your “pay them for *my* work” rule! Total win-win!

    Can I confess I got a little choked up when reading what you said about most of the moms reading this are not lazy? We are always so hard on ourselves! Comparing myself to others is really something I need to work on! Read: DON’T DO IT. 😉

    • Reply Amber Vanderpol June 16, 2016 at 1:02 pm

      Me too, Catie! And great advice – hard to do, but it is absolutely a must.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 17, 2016 at 3:35 pm

      Yes! We ARE so hard on ourselves. I’m not going to say that we don’t all have lazy moments of which we need to repent, but I have zero evidence that any of the people who have commented on or emailed me about this series are actual sluggards. 🙂 Sluggards aren’t usually, “Oh, how I wish I could get more of this list done” you know? 😉

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