The Best Present to Give Yourself This Mother's Day

by Christine Gross-Loh

When I was researching my book, Parenting Without Borders, I talked to parents around the world and in the U.S. to try to discover some outside-the-box solutions to common dilemmas American parents face — particularly American Moms. As an American parent myself, I was curious to know whether there were things I could do differently or better for a smoother family life and motherhood.

One of the most common frustrations that American parents talked to me about was how they wished their kids were able to pitch in and do more for themselves. (The stories were endless, like the woman whose ten-year-old got mad at her because she didn’t come home in time to make him lunch, or the nine-year-old who stood shivering outside a pool because no one had brought him a towel). Changing long-ingrained habits doesn't have to feel daunting. Here are three simple things a parent can do, starting today, to give herself the gift of having more helpful kids, just in time for Mother’s Day.  

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Knowledge is Power

Learn about what kids are able to do. The most astonishing thing for me to discover was that children around the world are doing so much more than our culture tells us kids are capable of: Small kids are doing errands and walking to school on their own in Japan, taking the bus in Sweden, using knives in Germany, and watching siblings in Finland. There are kids who are doing laundry and kids who can cook meals. Kids around the world are pitching in, and it usually starts younger than you think – Parents are actively nurturing children’s helpfulness from the time they’re toddlers (which is exactly when kids reach a developmental stage when they show signs of wanting to imitate adults and help them out). Knowing what kids can do can enable you to hold different expectations of what kids can, should and want to do.

Do Less

Once you understand what kids are capable of, you can tailor your actions accordingly. Pay attention to what you do, and scale back on the things you really don’t have to be doing. Just do less. You see, kids really long to feel competent, like masters of their world. But they can’t if we’re in the way. A lot of what you do for your kids is probably so automatic that it’s invisible to you, especially if it’s what everyone else around you seems to be doing for their kids, too. Are you buttering their toast? Combing their hair? Carrying their bags or coats? Getting them a glass of water? Packing their bags for a trip? Picking up their wet towels? If you stop and think about it, doing things for them (especially when it’s things they are capable of doing on their own). It may seem like kindness, but in the long run, you’re actually giving them the message that you don’t believe they’re capable of being competent and independent.

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Start Small

You don’t have to jump in with both feet. It’s more effective to start small, with, say, one new challenge a week. If you have a toddler, she is capable of folding her clothes (and will take great pride in doing so); a preschooler can start to cut apple slices with a dull knife. You can teach her how to butter her own toast, too – it’s OK if it’s not perfect. Put the cups down low and get a small pitcher so she can pour herself water whenever she’s thirsty. The next time your pre-teen asks you where his favorite shirt is, teach him how the laundry machine works. These small changes take a little time at first, because you have to guide and teach them, but the good effects will accumulate and pay off for all of you. 

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A parenting expert with a Ph.D. from Harvard University, Christine Gross-Loh raised her own children in Japan for five years. Her writing has appeared in "Mothering Magazine", "Parenting Magazine", "Shape Magazine", and on Christine’s new book Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us will be published on May 2, 2013 by Avery/Penguin. For more information visit:

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