Life skills I’d rather not teach my kids

Dara Squires
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I’m a procrastinator. That is why my Wednesday columns are sometimes frantically typed on Tuesday morning. It’s also why I only ever got to 5K in my marathon training and why I still haven’t applied for law school.

The thing is, procrastination has rarely had any repercussions for me. I’m a successful procrastinator. I’ve never had an employer complain about it (though I’ve had a couple co-workers holding their breath and praying for my last minute touchdown).

I’m what I call a delayed perfectionist ... my procrastination is really planning. I find last minute action suits me best.

Still, it’s not a skill I want to teach my kids. It’s stressful being this way — always wondering if this is the time you’ll be caught out; always blaming myself for getting into time-jams.

It’s hard for them not to learn it though. We learn what we live, and the kids may not have the vocabulary to name it just yet but they are perfectly aware of mommy’s last-minute, wonder-making skills.

To them it looks like success. Their mom can have no valentines ready for their class when they go to bed the night before, and 67 personalized ones tucked in their three bookbags the next morning.

But it is poor parenting that they have to live with that “what if” stress of mommy not getting those valentines finished in time and it’s a lost opportunity that they’re not ready and waiting for them to glitterize and write everyone’s names on in the week before Valentine’s Day.

If only I could pour the energy of those last-minute tasks into my everyday, I’d be a better housekeeper too. Frankly, I’m a horrible housekeeper. While everything else in my life is planned for, housekeeping manages to slip under my radar until it becomes necessary or obvious. I often think of myself as disorganized. But I’m actually pretty organized, I’m just not putting in the energy to keep the organization.

I don’t know why the shoes don’t just know where they belong and march there rather than turning up in the corner of the bathroom and the middle of the hallway. And laundry, the unforgiveable, forever chore, is the bane of my existence. Once a month or so my laundry room is immaculate and all the clothes cleaned and put away. The other 29 days it’s utter chaos that I keep thinking just needs to be organized better. In reality, it just needs more attention paid to it on a regular basis.

As my son neglects his homework and then puts in a crankly, herculean effort to complete three worksheets in one evening and my daughter lives in the world’s most untidy bedroom but when she cleans makes it spotless,

I know I’ve taught them this particular life skill.

Perhaps I’ve taught them more successfully, even, than the ones I wanted and tried to teach them — self-sufficiency, pride in your work, resiliency, empathy.

I recently read a letter posted by a father to his son’s kindergarten teacher wherein he stated that rather than sight words and numerical precision, the teacher could concentrate on teaching his son those life skills and traits he admired: curiosity,  open-mindedness, creativity.

But it’s not a teacher’s job to do that. That is why this man’s letter rubbed me the wrong way. It is a parent’s one and only job to teach their children those things that they value. It is really the only thing that’s important about child-rearing (aside from keeping them fed and sheltered).

We can’t send our children out into the world — or school — and expect them to just pick up our values. And we can’t expect the world to meld itself to our desires and never contradict what we want our children to learn. That’s why along with those life skills and value lessons we should always teach them integrity. With integrity and pride in themselves, they can face contradiction and stand tall in what they know and believe.

My kids might have my procrastination and sloppy housekeeping skills nailed, but the fact that they picked those up so easily gives me hope that they’ve picked up the more important things I want to teach them as well.

Because, while I know I show them these particular poor skills every day, I also know they see mommy living with empathy, resiliency and integrity. I don’t need a teacher or boy scout leader to show them those things because they are just as obvious as that pile of dirty laundry at the bottom of the stairs.

Kids learn what they live — bad and good.


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