Ode to Mom and Dad: The Kids’ Perspective
I am often asked what my children think about being raised by parents who took a hands-off approach to parenting. Now that they are out of the house and on their own, and have had some time to reflect, I asked each of them to share one aspect of our family that impacted their life and is still impacting it today.
Hannah, Twenty-Three Years Old: Confidence and Trust
Maybe the most important thing my parents ever taught me was to have confidence in myself and to trust myself in every aspect of my life. But you don’t build confidence and learn to trust yourself unless a parent has confidence and trust in you first.
I can remember my school morning routine as if it were yesterday. As a five-year-old kindergartner, living in Edmonds, Washington, I would get up to my alarm clock at six in the morning every day. My first stop was to my parents’ room to say good morning and give them kisses. Then I would head to the kitchen and make myself a bowl of cereal (which I had set out the night before). I would eat, pack my lunch, and brush my teeth and get dressed. How is it that a five-year-old can do so much on her own? It’s not so hard with practice and support from parents who are confident that, with a bit of training and lots of encouragement, any five-year-old can handle a morning routine. And, truth be told, a mom who was willing to admit that if she was in the kitchen with me, she would find a way to “tweak” my routine and throw me off my game, so she stayed out of the kitchen until I was ready. She had her coffee in her room and waited for me to come and get her. Talk about a parent who trusts her child.
Mom worked from home running a small childcare center. I took the bus to school and, when I was ready, Mom would put on her slippers and walk me to the end of the driveway, where we would wait for the bus together. This was my favorite part of the day; I got a solid ten minutes of Mommy and me time. We got to talk about anything I wanted and as the bus drove up I would kiss her goodbye and head to school. Now, I know you must be thinking, Well, why didn’t she just let you walk to the end of the driveway by yourself if she trusted you could do it? It wasn’t that she didn’t trust me, she walked me to the end of the driveway and waited with me because she knew how much I loved this time with her. I looked forward to these ten minutes and I knew that if I wanted that time with her, I would have to manage my mornings. I loved the feeling of independence and I loved the time with Mom. It was a win/win from my five-year-old perspective
As I grew up, I added more responsibilities to my plate, including showering in the morning, helping Mom get Zoe and Brady ready for school, doing my dishes after breakfast, and picking up my room before school. When our family grew and became the Hofenways (a combination of two last names), my responsibilities grew, along with the confidence and trust I felt my parents had in me and that I had in myself. I was mowing the lawn, bringing the trash and recycling to the corner, shoveling snow, starting the cars, and helping with the weekly menu by the time I was twelve. These responsibilities continued to grow over the years, as did my sense of confidence.
One of the ways my parents sent that message that they had confidence in me was to teach my siblings and me how to make important phone calls. At fourteen years old I was calling to make doctors’ appointments and check out movie times, and I even helped my mom in her business, making phone calls to customers. Talk about feeling important and valuable. The confidence I felt played a part in my ability to fill out job applications, make lists of questions to ask my potential employer, remember to ask for their name on the phone, and nail down details if there was the possibility of an interview. When I was asked to come in for an interview I felt confident making eye contact, shaking hands firmly, and asking questions most kids my age had never even considered asking a potential employer. I was often hired after my first interview and I am sure that it was the result of the confidence I exuded. I can’t tell you how great it feels for a fourteen-year-old to know that she can land a job on her own, with no “help” from her parents. Knowing that I could make my own money and would be able to support myself when I left home fed my feelings of confidence and this gave me more courage to do more in my life.
It seems like such a small thing, teaching your kids how to make their lunch, get up with an alarm clock, set their own morning routine, but the result is a twenty-three-year-old who feels empowered in her life and confident about the decisions she makes, and knows with certainty that her parents have faith in her abilities.
Colin, Twenty Years Old: The Power of the Tribe
I didn’t pay much attention to the way people described my family until I heard the word “tribe,” and I knew the word was perfect for what the seven of us created together.
In high school, if you played sports you had to sign a nonnegotiable agreement: no partying, no use of inappropriate or offensive language, maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher, and so on. The equivalent of that nonnegotiable agreement in our family was that you are either part of the tribe or you are not. It was as simple as that.
Being part of the tribe meant bringing your very best to every conversation, every discussion, and every disagreement we had. My parents cared about our perspective, our opinions, our preferences, and our ideas for solutions. They made it clear that without each of our contributions to the health of the family, the family would suffer. The message was clear; we are in this together. What affects one of us affects all of us. Becoming a member of this tribe wasn’t a matter of clicking a button or writing a $200.00 check to cover the membership initiation fee. The only currency we worked with was love, sweat, and tears.
I’ve heard my friends comment that it was clear to them when they visited me at home that we had something special, something unique. I never realized it, but I feel our family, above all else, values each other and the relationships that make up our family. These relationships are the most important part of my life.
Being born into the tribe also has its responsibilities. You were expected to pull your weight around the house, keep it company clean, as my mom liked to say. We all chipped in, every day. We created routines that kept the family running smoothly, and these routines, whether we knew it or not, became like second nature to all of us and kept the family in a “flow.” There weren’t many arguments about who was supposed to do what, and by the time we were all teens, menial household chores and other responsibilities were considered part of life.
When something so basic as the functionality of a household begins to self-propel, you stop noticing the small things your siblings do that make you a little crazy. Instead, you learn to admire, to appreciate, and to love each member of your family, and the best part is, you know they love you in the same way.
Those of us who drove were willing to pick up a sibling if they were stranded at school, a sporting event, the movies, or a school dance or take them to an early-morning swim practice. We depended on each other and we worked as a team. I know I never considered what we did as anything other than normal until I heard my friends talk about how rare this was in other families.
It isn’t until you can truly value what the people around you are bringing to the table, as well as express this to them, that you can say, I have found my tribe, I have found my home. I have found my home and it is in the hearts of my family.
Zoe, Twenty Years Old: Family Meetings Rock
What’s one word to describe growing up in a household of seven? Chaos! It’s the first word that comes into most people’s minds when I say I am one of five kids, and, truthfully, sometimes it pops into mine. But life wasn’t chaotic. It was calm and organized and, well, it was fun.
Weekly family meetings were the one aspect of our lives that kept us all grounded and running like a well-oiled machine. Before we were even remotely close to grasping the idea of what an “appreciation” was or that helping Mom unload the dishwasher was actually called a chore, we were sitting in our high chairs partaking of the family meeting.
As we grew older and things like ballet class, karate lessons, gymnastics, swim team, yearbook, sleepovers, lacrosse, and just about every other activity one could cram into a day, took over our lives, family meetings became that much more essential. Today, I am able to schedule and manage my time efficiently and to prioritize what I want to do with my days, my weeks, and even what I want to get out of my year here at school.
Appreciations given each week, to the person on your right, the person on your left, or to every single member of the family, reminded each of us just how important we were to each other. It helped us see the best in each other and to point out strengths instead of what someone did that drove you crazy. There wasn’t much squabbling among the five of us kids, and I think that’s because every week we were giving and getting appreciations. As a freshman in college this year, I have experienced firsthand just how hurtful and cruel people can be to each other, and I owe appreciations a big thank-you for helping me be a more thoughtful and kind person.
Distributing contributions was a chance to barter with a sibling and convince someone to change chores with you. We learned to negotiate, compromise, and cooperate, and we understood that if we didn’t each do our part each week, the family would suffer. Whether I was out on a trail during an Outward Bound experience or traveling in Argentina or volunteering in Ecuador, I felt confident that I could do what was necessary to ensure I had an awesome trip. I knew how to do my own laundry, buy and cook my own food, find bus routes, talk to locals, ask for directions, book flights, and immerse myself in the culture instead of worrying about how to take care of myself. Living in hostels also made me realize that being self-reliant made my experience so much more enjoyable. I saw a lot of kids my age who were totally overwhelmed with everything they had to do just to get around in a new country.
Getting our weekly allowance was a chance to replenish our wallets (the allowance was only given out until we were fourteen and able to make our own money) and learn to manage our money beginning at the age of three. Don’t even get me started on how this has helped me in my life as a kid who loves to travel abroad and go on adventures, and who is living three thousand miles away from home attending college and working. Money is no problem for me. I understand how to budget, I understand how to save, and I even understand that sometimes I have to blow a bit on myself (this is hard for me to do and my mom has to encourage me to treat myself). As I watch other people my age I am so thankful that my parents put those silvery coins in my hand and gave me time to practice figuring out how to manage my money before I was out on my own.
Family meetings reminded all of us, each of us, of who we really were. As we grew older, you might find one of us rolling our eyes or saying something snarky under our breaths about family meetings, but had family meetings not been a part of our lives we would not be the successful, loving, independent, generous, forgiving, kind, thoughtful, hard-working adults we are today.
To conclude, it’s only right that I end with an infamous appreciation. I appreciate my family: Vicki, Iain, Hannah, Colin, Kiera, and Brady for allowing and helping me become the mature, loud, outgoing, sarcastic, affectionate, driven, adventurous freshman that I am today.
Kiera, Nineteen Years Old: Independence
By the time I headed into kindergarten I was able to get up on my own, pack my own lunch, and make sure I had all my gear for school. My parents raised me with the notion that if I wasn’t going to make my own lunch, who would? Packing my own lunch at the age of five put me ahead of my classmates in terms of self-reliance. When I was in the first grade, my parents taught me how to manage my own money using a weekly allowance, while my classmates “borrowed” money from their parents every time they wanted something of their own. In the second grade I was figuring out ways to get home from gymnastics when both my parents were busy.
These baby steps toward independence eventually gave me the confidence to attend an Outward Bound Program for two weeks in the eighth grade; spend a semester in Spain during my junior year of high school; spend four weeks between my junior and senior years attending the Governer’s Institute of the Arts; travel to Argentina for two weeks to visit and travel with my sister; and to apply to colleges three thousand miles from home.
Having just completed an incredible first semester of college at Chapman University in Orange, California, I am so thankful my parents were committed to raising five independent kids. As a freshman, I found myself surrounded by eighteen-, nineteen-, even twenty-year-old Chapman students asking me how to operate a washing machine or sharing that they had never cleaned a bathroom in their entire lives! Keep in mind that these students were some of the brightest kids in their high school class, maintaining at least a 3.5 GPA to even be considered by Chapman. I was blown away. One student even asked me why I was paying my monthly phone bill. “Don’t your parents pay it for you?” she asked. “Uh, no. No, they don’t.” It crossed my mind that, for many of my classmates, this was their first experience of real independence, having been completely dependent on their parents for the past twenty years of their lives.
Sometimes you realize just how lucky you are only when you see yourself in comparison to others. This sense of independence and curiosity I have about the world and all it has to offer started when I made that first sandwich as a five-year-old. I haven’t looked back once.
Brady, Nineteen Years Old: Trust
When I was growing up there were many things my parents taught me, beginning at a very young age. Being responsible for myself and for my decisions is among them. I was responsible for getting dressed, cleaning up, making my own lunches, and, in general, taking care of myself from the time I was in the first grade. In addition to taking care of ourselves, everyone in the household contributed to cleaning and to the upkeep of the house. All of the kids would choose a weekly chore, which included cleaning the kitchen, vacuuming, bringing in wood, cleaning bathrooms, taking care of animals, and other tasks around the house. Because of how early I learned these skills, by the time I reached middle school they were second nature and a habit to me. I considered myself a responsible person.
But the most important lessons I learned were about earning the trust of someone you respect, the responsibilities associated with that trust, and how difficult it can be to regain it once that trust is broken. In this area, I had much growing to do. Each time I set out on a new experience, I could feel my parents’ belief in my abilities and their trust that no matter what happened, I could handle the outcome.
There were many times, when I was young, that my parents put their trust and faith in me, confident that I would make the most of the opportunities placed in front of me; and time and time again I failed to appreciate and take advantage of many of these opportunities. There are countless instances, both small and large, that display just how deeply my parents trusted me and, instead of making me feel bad when I messed up, allowed me to gather information about myself and the experience and use it to grow and mature.
One glaring example of their trust was the year I spent in Pennsylvania at a private school called Westtown. I had convinced my parents that if given a chance to attend a challenging private school that cared more about learning than about test taking and homework, I would excel in school. The tuition was, as one can imagine, pretty steep, and there was an understanding at the beginning of the year that I would achieve high enough grades to get grants and scholarships to help with the costs of attending for the following years. I admit that I was capable of achieving these grades, so their expectations were not unreasonable.
Instead of taking advantage of the opportunities being afforded me of attending four years at a top boarding school, I proceeded to get average grades and worry more about what everyone thought of me than what I had to do to get the better education I said I wanted. After just one year, I returned home with nothing to show but a few new experiences, a few new friends, and a large amount of money wasted on nothing. However, the experience showed me that I was looking for more than a traditional education could offer—without the opportunity to try something and not accomplish the expected results, I would not have had the awareness about myself that I gained from that year away.
After that experience, it’s easy to understand why my parents might not have trusted me with another big decision that required a commitment on my part. And for a while they seemed hesitant, and that is understandable given the magnitude of the trust I had just broken.
But it was barely a year later when they trusted me with an even bigger decision, one that would impact the rest of my life. This time I was asking them to let me drop out of high school, get my GED, and spend three months in Nepal. And this time I was determined to restore their trust in my decision-making abilities.
I took care of everything. I made appointments with guidance counselors, filled out paperwork, spoke to teachers, answered questions, and stated my case to the administration of my high school. I signed up to take the GED, passed it, and prepared myself for the trip. I filled out applications, wrote family and friends for recommendations, spoke to officials at the organization hosting the trip. I made lists of the supplies I would need, how much money I would need, the immunizations that were required, and anything else having to do with traveling abroad for three months in Nepal. My parents watched as I regained their trust and proved to them and to myself that I could be responsible for this life decision. They showed their trust in me by making another sizable investment in my “education.”
Soon, I found myself halfway around the world in a completely new land. In what felt like both the longest and the shortest three months of my life, I learned more about the world and myself than I possibly could have in any high school.
Without my parents’ unwavering trust in me, the amazing experience I had in Nepal never would have happened. The growth I experienced would not have happened.
The lesson at the end of the day is to teach your children as much as you can and trust that they will learn, but never forget that there are some lessons that kids must learn on their own. A parent’s job is to give kids the tools they need to learn those lessons as quickly and smoothly as possible. And trusting that your kids will learn those lessons makes all the difference.