Learned Dependence


Learned dependence is something I’m accused of encouraging, so says my eldest daughter. She’s said things similar for years, but this is now the word that buzzes around our household. And I’m most guilty of it because my little princess (otherwise known as my youngest daughter) knows how to wrap me around her little finger.

Like any good father I ignored my eldest daughter’s jibes. I suggested the stock standard sibling rivalry. ‘No,’ says she. ‘Look at yourself.’ At the time I think I was helping my youngest with the inner tab of a squeezable bottle of ketchup, where you need a bit of strength with fine motor skills – difficult! Maybe the evidence was overwhelming. Debra sat as judge. The verdict was in.

‘But I’m not always,’ I pleaded. ‘You are,’ came back in unison.

I am.

I’m a father, what do they expect? But I might concede that it does raise a question of whether I sometimes stand in the way of my daughter’s independence. When she has me to do for her, why bother doing herself?

Sometimes we – or more specifically I – don’t always reach the aims of what we are trying at Journey Skills. She is our child with additional needs, and we feel all her struggles. And actually doing is sometimes a lot harder than saying. But saying doesn’t mean anything without doing.

Letting our children struggle or fail is not what we want as parents. But sometimes it is for the greater good. To achieve after a struggle is so much more satisfying than to pass it over to someone else to sort. Then from one success another is built.

I know all this, of course. And I should keep on knowing it, and remembering it too. But when it comes to it, and I’m left alone to supervise the chores, I lapse into old habits of encouraging learned dependence. So I will try to use some mental discipline to remember the following thoughts I’ve had about chores, but I don’t deny I may momentarily forget my own good advice as someone beckons me over to help her do something.

1. Chores teach independence, not dependence
As much independence as possible is our destination, and each chore teaches my daughter one little thing about grown up living. Have several chores on a list, like changing the bedding, putting on the washing, loading the dishwasher, putting out the rubbish, and we are a good way along the tasks us parents do all the time for our children. With practice each week she will begin to find them all easy, and being able to do them takes her that one little step away from dependence on others, namely me!

2. Chores teach pride
Everyone gets pride from achieving things they didn’t think they could do. After a chore has been learned, we can move on to the concept of excellence. Let’s not just do the chore, but let’s do it well. Let’s make a really good job of it. Let’s do it better than anyone else. Let’s be not only good, but very good at something. Let’s take pride in our work.

3. Chores need lists
Invariably chores come with lists. Some chores will be dependent upon other chores being done first: this teaches my daughter that everything around the house doesn’t magically happen. There’s an order in which things are done. She not only learns about chores, she also learns how to follow a list sequentially – and my daughter definitely loves a good list.

4. Chores require rewards
I am told it is customary to give some sort of payment for work – after all my daughter is paid help! Giving her money after, and only after, also teaches her about the relationship between money and work. She works; she gets paid. She then has money to spend on whatever she wants, whether I deem it appropriate or not – oh yes chocolate is sometimes a part of the deal unfortunately.

I guess what I’m saying is that by giving chores, and keeping to them, gets me out of the mind-set of constantly wanting to lend my daughter a hand. It makes me think, she can do her chores so why can’t she do whatever it is she’s having difficulty with. Chores make me ready to say, keep trying, you will get there. Chores make me think of independence, and so don’t let me slip back into our comfortable relationship of learned dependence. Perhaps when I’m not favourite daddy any more, I might think differently.

Now I’m wondering whether we’re the only ones whose daughter puts out a great big rubbish bin every Thursday night? Are you ready to look like a bad parent, as we did, the first time everyone along your street sees your child putting out the trash bin?