The other day on the way to ballet lessons, we stopped outside a block of shops. I gave Zamara $9 (a $5 note and 2x $2 coins). After I asked, and she correctly answered, how much she had, I sent her on a mission to go into the dairy and get a drink (of her choosing) for her, and a Mountain Dew for myself.
I thought she’d be thrilled. She loves getting drinks (juice, or fizzy – they’re all a treat for her) and she craves independence.
Instead, she balked. “Where do I go? What do I do?”
I pointed out which shop was the dairy (surprised she even needed that much assistance) and popped into the neighboring pharmacy to pick up a prescription. The prescription took about five minutes. I checked back in the car, she wasn’t there. I wandered into the dairy, where I saw a confused looking seven year old being assisted by the shop clerk, helping her pick out and get the drink she was after as well as mine.
I was shocked. I’ve never had her purchase anything herself before (I frequently let her choose, but do the transaction myself). For some reason, I just assumed that a) she’d jump at the chance and b) she’d succeed easily. Neither ended up being true – she didn’t know where to start with the task. In the end, she managed it, but primarily because the shop clerk noticed her walking in and out of the shop looking befuzzled and asked if she needed help. She explained she was getting a drink for mum and herself, and he gradually pulled the information out that I wanted a Mt. Dew and she wanted – well, she wasn’t sure – but actually, that Fresh Up looks nice. When I came in at that point, she expected me to take over, but I didn’t. I did follow her to the counter, but let her put the money up herself (and she did – she hadn’t noted the price at all, but merely put everything I’d given her up at once, for the shop clerk to sort out).
The experience was an eye opener for me. It reminded me exactly how much we take for granted – i.e., I purchase something most days, and no longer think about it. She’s never done it before. She’s only just taller than the standard size shop counter. But she’s also come to accept that it’s just frankly not her role – and that’s the part that bothers me. I was raised very independent, in part by necessity and in part deliberately on my mother’s part. In many ways, I was always treated as a mini-sized adult. I don’t remember when I did my first shop transaction, but I’m sure I was doing it by seven and a half. I regularly had pocket money – something none of my kids do. (Even with their tooth-fairy money, they treat it like a toy, and misplace it more often than not). There were some aspects of my uber-independent upbringing I didn’t like, but in general, it’s one I was hoping to emulate with my children. The experience in the dairy was a wake-up call that I’ve slacked in my goals of empowering my children, at least in this area. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that a seven year old be able to buy a few items at a small store. (Wasn’t Kevin eight years old in the original Home Alone – and he managed fine at the store!)
I am, as Dr. Phil puts it, not just “raising kids”, but raising tomorrow’s adults. As such, I see it as my duty to ensure – in age appropriate steps – that they are fully capable and confident when interacting with the world. I think I’ve fallen into the trap – and convenience – of still seeing my seven and a half year old as the fully dependent baby she was, and not as the Year 3 school student she is, or the adult I hope that she grows up to be. I’m busy, it’s easier in the moment to just grab items myself, often having her stay in the car for the whole trip. This week, I’ve been reminded of the enormous value there is in both bringing her in with me, but also, nudging her to do things herself.