Raising self-sufficient kids

My mother always made excuses for me to absolve me from doing chores and even from thinking.  She always had the perfect excuse: I had homework to do, I was tired, it was faster if she did it herself anyway and a whole host of other excuses, when it came to washing up, taking the rubbish out, cleaning my own room, right down to fetching myself a cup of tea. In her simple, generous and selfless mind, I always had other more important things to do.  I was going to be an important person in the future, destined for greater things, and thus, my every moment should not be wasted on menial tasks and mundane things.

It may sound idyllic, but my mother had robbed me of learning opportunities. I never learned to be self-sufficient. All I needed to do was use my voice.

The career paths I had chosen did not help me either. From my twenties onwards (apart from my short PhD years), I had nurses, secretaries and maids running at my every bidding. I always had people to file things away, sweep up my crumbs, wash up after me, run my errands, open jars and load syringes. As I grew older, I morphed from a pampered kid into an arrogant adult who hid her insufficiencies behind her successes. My excuse – nay, make that self-justification – was, I was earning a six figure salary, why should I know how to change car tyres? I needed hired help, to free me to do the ‘more important’ things in life, such as playing with my children, cooking wholesome food, reading, partying.  That was all good at the headline level, but filter that down to day-to-day living, it became a crippling shortcoming. Examples: because I no longer have a personal assistant, I have missed the same flight three times in the week, I am always going overdrawn in my accounts because I am bad at keeping track on my spendings, I do not know how to operate household appliances, I leave my kitchen mess for others to tidy up, I can never find my own things … need I go on?

In the beginning, I tried on this ruling class mentality with my children’s father, but got nowhere. He was the only one who was not prepared to jump over hoops at my bidding. Indeed, I often credit him for teaching me life’s lessons, including one in self-sufficiency.

Kicking and screaming, he had dragged me into the real world. I had learned how to change fuses and clean our house (on the first night I slept over! I am still reeling with shock about it). But almost thirty years of unsympathetic lessons from this taskmaster, I still have the occasional bad habit, like handing a banana on auto-pilot for him to peel.

I arrived home in England and all the old-time bad habits surfaced once more. My passport. It was out of date. Can you imagine, I managed to get through immigration with an out-of-date passport, but fortunately, Border Control in the UK side allowed me in. My family’s office scrambled into action.  The appropriate forms were miraculously pushed into my hands, appointment for Priority Service made, proxy letter written and printed (for someone to go and get my new passport), directions to the local photographer given … all I had to do is walk the 200metres to the photo shop.

But see the post-it stickers? Yes, I am that incapable.

And having learned from the previous generation’s mistake, my girls were brought up very differently. Oh yes, their father made sure of that.  Despite her delicacy, Kat could change car tyres and U-tubes (kitchen sink). Despite her lack of domesticity, G could fix herself a nutritious meal and self-medicate (at 14!). And even though she spends a lot of time on the football field, she stays on top of her schoolwork with zero interference from us. As she often comments, “I brought myself up.” That’s what happens when you have a mother with a disability in the real-life department.


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