Updated: Dec 28, 2022
The man at the transfer station asks me how I am holding up for the holiday. I tell him that while I don’t want to be stressed out, I actually am. We chat about how as children get older, the devices, the gifts, and the expectations are much more expensive. The truth is as a solo mother, again, this year, I am caught up in that reality.
I get into the car. I readjust my shallow breathing that comes from thinking about this topic, and I dig in. I know the rules as a teacher; I need to remember them now as a parent.
There are two fundamental gifts that we can give our children each year at the holidays, and really every day: presence and empowerment.
Today at school the smallest boy goes to the bathroom. After he is done, he reminds me that “I need to clean my hands, Miss Kenzie.” I pull out a stool, a small cooler tucked under the cabinets, and I place it in front of the sink. He begins to climb. I do not put him up on it. It’s shaky, so I place my foot against the cooler. I do not assist him. He very slowly and very carefully comes to a stand and looks at the sink. “Pull your sleeves up,” I say. I do not do this for him. I do not ask him to; I tell him. He takes his time, pulling and pulling each sleeve up. I breathe into my patience; he is learning how to tend to his body. When people ask me what I teach children, this, this is what I teach children.
The whole process takes several minutes: getting up, pushing sleeves up, washing, drying, pushing sleeves down, getting down. But I never, not once do anything for him. I give him my presence, encourage him, stand by his side, for he is the creator of this moment. He feels empowered when he steps back down. “We did it, Miss Kenzie!” And we did. Me standing by him, with him doing all the work.
You see it is not our job to do these things for our children: put on coats, boots, hats, zip bags, and open lunch boxes. It is not our job to answer every question, but rather to ask, “What do you think?” It is not our job to clean their toys up, throw away their garbage, or any task that we know they can do with pride. Because the greatest gift we can give our children this holiday is the pride in knowing that they can do all of these tasks, big human tasks, all by themselves. In doing so, we prepare them for the world, for later schooling, and even relationships. We inspire them to stand in their own beings and show up, just as we show up by their side cheering them on.
Somewhere along the way we got this idea that if we “do” things for our children we are showing them more love, and while on some levels this can be true, real love comes from the belief that our little ones can do it, too.
The real encouragement to parents this holiday is to slow down. Slow down so much that your children don’t feel like they need to get ahead of you. Slow down so that you are standing with them as they navigate their own buttons, boots, and bodies. When you do, the smiles and the pride in their voices will be the greatest gifts you can give them and yourselves. Empowerment is always a win-win, and presence makes up for the presents we can’t buy.
By Mackenzie Kell