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how to have three: teach them to “figure it out”


Call it Lazy Parenting. Call it Intentional Parenting.  I don't really care; it works.  This is how you survive being the Head of Household, three children, and a growing business: teach them to Do It Themselves – as soon as you possibly can.

How?  With stools.

And hooks at their level.

And by insisting.  It's amazing to see how resourceful, creative, and intuitive kids can really be when you let them. 

I start by asking my toddlers at 18 months old to put their plate and cup at the counter (or somewhere near it).  They also learn to throw away their trash and hang up their coat on the hook at that age.  YES, they can do it.  You just have to show them and LET them.  It's not always easier.  At least, not at first.  It takes patience.  But to watch your baby glow with pride at his or her abilities…and to be able to ask them at some point to do something for themselves, freeing YOU up to get things done…I just think "that's a good thing" (channeling Martha here).

And now that I have three – well, it's not just a good thing.  It's a necessary thing.  I simply am not an octopus.  I can't actually do everything at once.  So I expect my children to do what they can for themselves.006

This means I have to be a little organized.  We have white hangers for Evyn's clothes on her side of the closet; pink ones for Ashlyn.  We have drawstring bags for Evyn's socks and underwear so that she can fish them out of the clean laundry and put them away herself.  We have hooks all over the place so they can hang up their own robe and towel and jacket.  They can mostly dress themselves and I only buy clothes I don't mind them wearing.  So when Evyn walks out with striped socks and sneakers with her Easter dress, I'm just grateful it was one less chore for me that morning.  They also have their own bottom cabinet in the kitchen for cups, bowls and plates.  They get their own water and when I am making an assembly line of food they bring me a plate and bowl (and since they picked it out themselves there's none of this: "I wanted the Care Bears plate, not the boring green one!"

My kids have lived their lifetime by this philosophy (I call it the "figure it out" philosophy – named after my retort in every instance of them asking me to help them do something I suspect they can do for themselves).  It's not without hazards; I have Poison Control on speed dial.  But, it's mostly with charming moments.  The ones where their little critical thinking brains solve their own problem, create their own story, or attempt to follow along with me in their mini-version of my world.  This was taken the day I washed the mini-van:


I turned my back for a bit and when I returned she'd carted out all the bikes and tricycles from the garage, turned on the hose, and had started her own little car-washing scenario.

This is the best nine dollars I've ever spent:Ashvaccum3

A real-live vacuum cleaner (really, a glorified car-vac on a stick).  Both Evyn and Ashlyn know how to use it, how to get the detachments apart so they can suck up the crumbs from a corner, and they are actually really happy to clean up their own glitter mess after an art project.


Some would say I'm being mean.  They're just kids.  They should be babies as long as I can let them be.  I agree with a huge part of that statement. I want them to be children.  That's why I don't ask them to do my taxes or pay rent. 😉

All kidding aside, the way we run our home is very similar to Montessori's philosophy that kids are born with an innate desire to learn and, when allowed to, will actually find a lot of joy in the process and in the result.  And, of course, I am still the one they turn to for the other 99% of things they need.

And let's face it: I'm not raising children.  I'm raising my portion of the next generation.  And I'd like them to be able to get along in the world, and, you know, eventually leave my nest without expecting me to do their laundry.

melanie - love this post!! I have some similar rules, but you are giving me more ideas! When I potty trained my kids earlier than my friends everyone was SHOCKED, yes kids can be potty trained at 19 months, and no it does not mean I am trained, they seriously CAN do it (and it saved me $$ and the environment a year or so of extra diapers!)…..sure it was a rough 10 days with my daughter, and only 2 rough days with my son, but when compared to the time, messes and money I saved WELL WORTH IT!

Iowa Expat - Amen sistah!!

LauraJ - I can’t help but grin and smile at this wonderful post from an even more wonderful mother! You are the empitomy of motherhood! This is how it’s done or should be. Bravo!
Despite my boy having disabilities I try to instill in him a sense of indepence and responsibility. We are two in this home therefore us two should take care of it.
I have a rule in my house: You make the mess. You clean it up. That includes guests as well. :)

Amanda - Amen! I parent this way too.
I watch kids here on a drop-in basis, and even ones who are not here consistently know my expectations. Parents are often shocked to see their kids clear their plates to the table, etc. I think it’s unreasonable to NOT have appropriate DIY expectations for even the little ones!

Brianna - I applaud you and think you are doing an amazing job. It is so important to teach kids that they can do it. It will aide in them being independent and secure as they grow. You are a wonderful mom.

Sara - You are wonderful! This post is so refreshing. I work with pre-college students and it is AMAZING how babied and entitled they are…wish their parents had adopted your outlook because their kids would probably be more resilient, resourceful, and empathetic. Bravo!

Cara - In the child welfare system, we call it ‘teaching life skills.’ Maybe some think you’re mean, but I think you’re doing them a favor.

margot - I COMPLETELY agree with this. Then again I was a Montessori kiddo, so maybe that’s why!? People are always blown away when I tell them that I started making my own lunch in kindergarten, but seriously, why not!? People need to be responsible for themselves, and starting that early is best. I don’t think you’re overworking them, if they make the mess, the should at least participate in cleaning PART of it, no matter the age!

Jenny Borisch - Great post! My parents raised my brother and I to be able to figure things out and it worked great – I think he and I turned out pretty well. :)
When my husband and I have kids I want to remember this ‘figure it out’ approach – it is so full of common sense.
P.S. Your kids are so cute!

krytal thorndike - Very well said! As a mom to 4 with the youngest being 18 mos…I also do the same :) Less of a headache for me and less of the feeling like I have to do it all…more confidence for them and it makes them happy to help!

Mom - Ok, can I just say it?? Pretty please?? THAT’S MY GIRL, EVERYONE! (shameless, aren’t I *g*) And as for that “lazy” comment, you stop that right now–you are anything BUT lazy :)

Audra - Inspiring! We work everyday enforcing the idea of helping one another enjoy our home by picking up and doing what they can. It is amazing to see what they are able to do and then they are so proud!

MarP - That’s how it’s done at our house too. Where did you get your vacuum ? Our vacuum is too heavy for the kids to use but yours would be definitely manageable for them. All the best to you and your family. Btw, my daughter is 32 months and still doesn’t sleep through the night, so you are a very lucky lady.

Dayna - Bravo! What a great example you’re being to other moms in your stage of parenting! I’ve always had our children bear their share of the home-keeping responsibility, and it’s better for everyone (on many levels). When I was pregnant with #4, a friend gave me a marvelous resource. It’s a book called What Every Child Should Know Along the Way, by Gail Martin. It’s out of print, but she still has some on hand and has let a couple of us buy it directly from her. You can find her on amazon. In the beginning of the book, she uses the Wright Brothers as an example of the world-changing possibilities when siblings band together, get along, and become productive. Very good reading. Keep up the good work!

sarah - I very much agree, but feel like I’ve forgotten this. I have 3 little ones as well. A bit of a gap b/w the first and second so he helps out a ton, but it was just him for so long, that he lacks a bit of SELF sufficiency. He was babied for so long that sometimes he reverts back.
I used this philosophy so much right after the third was born, but I’ve seemed to come back to my own control freak ways lately. Thanks for the post. It has reminded me that I am not doing my kids any favors by doing everything for them. I want to see them grow up knowing the world is what they can make it, not what anyone else hands them. Thank you.