published Sunday, April 29th, 2012

First Things First: Prepare kids' launch into the real world

Julie Baumgardner

Kay Wyma, mother of five, ages 3-14, had a revelation while taking her kids to school that prompted dramatic changes at home and ultimately led to her writing "Cleaning House: A Mom's 12-Month Experiment To Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement."

"My teenage son asked me what kind of car I thought he would look best in, a Porsche, Lexus or Maserati," said Wyma. "Deciding on the Porsche, he said he planned to get one when he turned 16. Fighting back nausea, I'm thinking, 'What planet are you on, and how do you plan to pay for it?'

"All the talks about materialism and how things don't make you happy' clearly hadn't penetrated his brain."

On the way home, Wyma called her friend to vent and get reassurance that the self-centered teenage stage doesn't last forever. In the midst of the discussion, Wyma realized that maybe she was contributing to her kids' self-centeredness.

"My kids are great, but I wondered if what we were doing was helping prepare them for the real world," said Wyma. "I made their beds, picked up their rooms, taxied them here and there, fixed their meals and showered them with accolades but rarely gave them the chance to confirm the substance of that praise. My words said one thing, but my actions said 'I'll do it for you because I can do it better or faster than you can.'

"I realized this was a major disservice to our children. Instead of preparing them to launch, we are creating a sense of dependence on us as parents."

After seeking wisdom from women who have adult children, Wyma came up with 12 skills for her children to learn before they fly the coop. Things such as make a bed and maintain an orderly room; cook and clean a kitchen, do yard work; clean a bathroom; do laundry; run errands and act mannerly.

"After deciding on the 12 skills, we called a family meeting and told the kids that things were going to be different," said Wyma. "We started with their rooms ... beds had to be made before they went to school and stuff picked up off the floor. We got the usual whining and complaining, but I was actually surprised at how quickly they started doing what we asked."

To help get the ball rolling, Wyma added an incentive. She put 31 dollar bills in a jar for each child. She gave them the choice of having $1 added each day they did what they were supposed to or have one taken away.

Most of the kids chose to have one taken away if they didn't follow through on their tasks. Interestingly, she rarely had to take bills out of the jar, but the child who chose to have money put in the jar could not have cared less.

"I think people forget how exciting it is to equip your kids to tap into the opportunities that come to them," said Wyma. "If I am always doing everything, they don't own anything nor do they have the opportunity to be challenged and build confidence.

"Our children are in a very different place than they were two years ago when we started this experiment. I think we would all agree things have changed for the better."

Email Julie Baumgardner, president and executive director of First Things First, at julieb@firstthings.org.

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