It’s been said that as parents, our job is to bring about our own obsolescence. In other words, we need to raise our kids so that they no longer need constant support and guidance from us. If you’ve been reading this blog for more than three weeks, you already know that I heartily agree with this statement. Why, then, am I slightly miffed that I’m becoming obsolete more quickly than I expected?
I always assumed that I’d become obsolete (as a parent) because my children had learned to take care of themselves. It never occurred to me that they’d begin to take care of each other so well as to make me feel superfluous; and yet, that day has come.
I made muffins with E tonight. After sliding the pan into the oven, I turned to E and told her to go take a bath. She went; I stayed in the kitchen to finish cleaning up.
Fast forward twenty minutes: R walked into the kitchen and said (in that uber-mature way she has,) “I taught E how to bathe herself. She didn’t know how, but I think it’s time she knew how to do it. Today I showed her how, so next time she takes a bath I’ll be there. Not to do it for her, but so she can ask me for help if she still needs it.”
Wow. Okay. I high-fived R and said, “That’s some serious initiative you’ve taken. Good on you.”
Freshly washed, with hair braided, dressed in clean pyjamas, E walked into the kitchen to check on the status of our muffins.
“Wow,” I said to R. “Did you braid E’s hair, too?”
She nodded. “Yup! I told her she has to sleep with her hair braided from now on so it doesn’t get all tangled at night. Either that or she should just cut it so it’s easier to keep untangled.”
(Readers, I have told E the very same thing on many occasions. Never has she nodded and agreed the way she did with R.)
After our muffin break, I nudged E and said, “Go brush your teeth, and I’ll come and tuck you in.”
“Actually,” she said, “R is going to read me a story and tuck me in.”
R looked straight at me and said, “I’m replacing you.”
“Really?” I exclaimed, wide-eyed, “Are you going to organize all her doctor and dentist appointments? Go to her speech therapy sessions and help her practice? Make sure she has clothes and shoes that fit her?”
“Um… no.” R said. “But all of the other mom stuff, yeah.”
I’m not sure how to feel about this. Is R jumping into what social workers would call a “parentified role” because she thinks I’m doing a crappy job? I’m mature enough to know that not everything is about me, but how can I not wonder if it’s about me?
You’ve likely heard someone say, “In big families, the older kids raise the younger ones.” Usually this is said in a highly critical tone, as though it’s terrible for the parents to foist that responsibility on their children. Is it really a bad thing, though? Is it bad for kids to care for others around them? To understand that all humans take a role in raising the tribe’s young? How exactly is R harmed by being allowed to voluntarily take care of her younger sister—who would much rather take hygiene advice from her sister than from her parents, don’t you know?
When R announced herself as my replacement tonight, I saw learning and growth in action. She obviously understands, for example, the steps required to teach someone a skill (first, explain while you demonstrate, then be present but step back and let the learner try on their own.) She took pride in her ability to take care of E; E enjoyed being the focus of her big sister’s attention; and their bond got incrementally stronger from the encounter. I think it’s safe for me to silence my inner judgy voice that accuses me of abdicating responsibility, and instead pat myself on the back for raising a kid who is a leader, willing to step up and help wherever she sees a need.