A few weeks ago, my next door neighbour 'John' had a massive heart attack. He's now at home recovering from major heart surgery and is completely unable to do the basic things that are required when you live in the bush as we do- chopping firewood, mowing the large lawns, starting the generator to top up the solar system batteries in overcast weather, and so on.
His 19-year-old son 'Danny' still lives at home, and we assumed that Danny would be able to pick up the slack and support his father while he recuperates. But John admitted to us that he has always done these things himself. It was easier and quicker that way. Now he sorely regrets not teaching Danny the life skills for the way of life they've chosen, and is relying on my partner to show Danny the basics of operating a chain saw safely.
What life skills have you taught your children? Or, like John, have you always done everything yourself because it was quicker, safer, easier?
My son was driving the ride-on mower at eight. Yes, yes, the labels say not to let children use the machine. I decided to ignore that and teach my son how to use the ride-on safely.
Auto-stop working, so that the machine died if his bottom so much as lifted off the seat: check.
Boots on at all times: check.
Time taken to explain how it worked, and let him tell it all back to me: check.
Start in a small area with no turns required: check.
Gradually expand area to involve turns: check.
Monitor him at all times when operating the mower: check.
My son adored this. He felt respected and trusted. He appreciated the time spent teaching him to do it properly. And within a few weeks, he'd taken a turn too fast, hit a gate and turned the mower over.
No, it wasn't a disaster; it was a learning experience. Yes, the auto-stop worked- it got checked every time. Yes, he bruised his leg badly, but there were no serious injuries. Yes, I was watching and ran to help him get the mower back up, then set him on his way again.
Did he drive the mower too fast around a corner ever again? No way.
I have never regretted spending the time teaching my son to do adult tasks, even when he's managed to damage things, experienced disappointment or hurt himself along the way. Managing adult tasks gives young people a sense of confidence and competence. Learning from mistakes beats learning from lectures by a country mile.
My son can also cook, because he was allowed to experiment in the kitchen from an early age. He can argue his point of view effectively, because he was always allowed to practise doing so and was shot down in flames if his argument was faulty. He can talk to women with respect, because he was taught to do so from a very early age and was given clear boundaries around disrespectful comments. He has never asked me for money, because he was privy to the financial conversations that went on in the house and came to understand that it doesn't come from a hole in the wall.
Children are not adults. But you can make their adult experience a lot easier by allowing them access to adult knowledge and allowing them to make mistakes in a controlled environment.
What have you allowed your children to learn this week?