This post is something a bit more personal than normal. I’m giving you guys some warning – we’re talking a bit about my injury in this post, too.
When I was first injured, I had to re-learn how to do essentially everything. I remember the first time I was allowed to sit on the edge of a bed in the hospital. It was horrifying – my balance was gone, nothing felt the same, and honestly… I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sit.
It was in that moment that I realised how daunting of a task I had. I had to not only learn how to cope with a spinal cord injury, but I understood how difficult it would be to do very simple tasks that I had never given much thought to. Brushing my teeth, getting dressed, using the restroom suddenly seemed impossible.
Everything was such a struggle, it took too long, I had no patience, and it was so annoying that everyone always wanted to help. Well intentioned nurses, my loving husband. I felt such a weight as they helped me.
After a lot of practice, there came a shift in my rehabilitation process. I didn’t want to be dependent on help from other people, but more than that, it was really hurting me emotionally. I needed to be able to take care of myself. I needed to know that once home, I’d be able to continue taking care of my son and husband. That I too have a purpose. I needed to feel like I could contribute to our family.
Whilst in the hospital and then in the beginning of my rehabilitation process, I remember being absolutely terrified that I would always be dependent on others. Having my ‘work’ taken away, and being forced to stay in bed all day, I couldn’t help but feel awful. When the cleaners came, I wanted to help scrub the bathroom. When the meals were brought, I was so desperate to help cook.
At first I couldn’t. And that was horrible. But then, a time came when I could, but… other people, well intentioned people, loved ones and nurses didn’t quite realise that, and would do things for me when I wanted to do them myself.
A lot of times, I have to be mindful to kindly remind friends and family that I can do things for myself. This was pretty frequent when I first returned home and it seemed like everyone wanted to help me with everything. The more they wanted to help (or took over for me), the more incapable I felt.
If I dropped something on the ground, then several family members would go to pick it up for me. If Y needed something, one of my sisters in law would go to get it for him even though he would ask me. They were all trying to be helpful. They knew I was tired, in pain, and that things were difficult for me. I knew they were coming from a kind place. But I found it so frustrating. I didn’t want their help. Nor did I need it. What I needed was to do things myself.
Sure, it would take more effort for me to pick something up from the ground for then for them, but there is a very large sense of confidence and happiness that returned to me once I was able to do the simple task of picking up the things I drop from the floor.
So what does any of this have to do with respecting children? Well, quite a lot.
In re-learning how to do basic tasks, I had to be very clear with others to not do it for me. Some of the most frustrating experiences I have had is when I am doing something, perhaps slowly or clumsily, but still doing something, and someone would come over and do it for me.
That feeling was awful – I felt pushed aside, incapable, diminished. That my effort wasn’t good enough.
During this process, I also realised… how often do we do that to our children?
Oh, just let me do it. I’ll help you. Should I get your shoes on for you?
One of my favourite aspects of Montessori is the independence and confidence that it brings out in children. Now, more than ever, I realise just why it is so important to let our children do things on their own.
Sure, I can probably fold a bit neater. I can pour water for my son without spilling. I can get him dressed quicker. But the thing is, if I always do those things for him, am I really helping him? I really don’t think so.
Aside from the practical aspect of teaching our children life skills, there is a very large emotional aspect of being able to carry out tasks on your own. For me, I think that has a lot to do with respecting another person’s boundaries, their independence, and their capabilities.
By letting Y struggle with the tasks he finds difficult, we give him the opportunity to accomplish something.
He learned how to pour himself a cup of water when he was around one year old, maybe even a little younger. He does it like it’s nothing now, and I am so proud of him. But you know what’s even more wonderful? I see the happiness on his face when he is able to do this! When his friends come over and he asks them if they’d like some water, runs with so much excitement to his cups, pours himself and his guests water, and carefully takes the cups back to his friends. Those moments are so beautiful.
Had we not wanted to clean up the spilled water (and trust me, there was so much spilled water!), had we thought ‘he can’t do it anyway’, we wouldn’t be able to see the joy and pride on his face. And for him, a sense of accomplishment!
He doesn’t have to ask us for water, he just gets it himself. It’s simple. But it’s those simple tasks of being able to care for oneself that can have a truly large impact on how we see ourselves and how we feel.
I need to be able to take care of myself. I need to feel independent. I’m pretty sure my son is the same way, as well as many other people. It just feels good to be able to do things. On your own. I truly believe allowing our kids to be independent and complete tasks for themselves, builds an immense sense of confidence.
I love seeing the accomplishment on my son’s face as he gets himself dressed. I adore watching him get his own snacks, make a sandwich, fold laundry, put his wash in the hamper, put away his toys. I’m not saying all of this to brag. I don’t even think I had much to do with all of that. He does it himself (when he wants to). My husband and I only make sure that he is given the opportunity to try. And then try again.
That’s what I missed a lot during my rehabilitation process – a lot of people tried to help me by taking over tasks, but I needed to have the opportunity to do things on my own. To struggle with them. To learn. And then to improve.
To get to the point – I think we, as adults and parents, should try to take a step back or two every now and again. We should ask our kids if they want help, rather than doing things for them. Even if they are struggling with something, it’s so important not to take over, but to let them struggle.* Let them spill. Let’s teach them how to do things rather than doing it for them. It’ll make them so much happier.
*Note: I don’t mean that we shouldn’t teach our kids how to do things. I just mean, we shouldn’t do it for them. I explain, demonstrate, and teach Y how to do things on his own. After a demonstration, we let him try on his own. The thing is, by spilling water, for example, kids see when a cup is full and learn that next time, they need to pour less water.
By this very long discussion, I really just mean to say, our children are really so capable! It’s just so important to give them opportunities to try new and difficult things! And sometimes, it’s fun to just be silly together!