It all started with a scarecrow.
My kindergartner came home from school in early fall as excited as I’ve seen him. “Mommy, we get to make our own scarecrows!” He proceeded to pull out multiple pieces of cardstock paper with scarecrow parts on them. His job, due by the end of the week, was to cut and decorate his scarecrow anyway he wanted. He got immediately to work. Over the next few days, he managed to color and decorate his scarecrow, and when it came time to cutting, after explaining this was his scarecrow and not mine, he did that by himself.
The finished product looked like a kindergartner did it. The scarecrow was a myriad of colors not found in nature, with stickers covered his body and a right leg that was longer than the left, but whatever, it was his and he was insanely proud.
Until he got to school, that is.
Apparently the kids in my son’s classroom are crafting geniuses. Their scarecrows came with perfectly outlined glitter glue arms and legs, straw sticking neatly out of their joints and mouths, and one even had a fabric costume SEWED onto its body. It became immediately clear that I was in the minority of encouraging my son to do his own work.
My son stared at his Burton-esque creation. “Mine’s not very good, is it?”
My heart broke right there. “Don’t be silly, yours is incredible, and most importantly, you did it by yourself! I am so proud of you, and your teacher will be too.” Luckily, my son has about a .5 second rebound rate, so he immediately forgot about his scarecrow and ran over to his friend.
I was in shock, which quickly grew to frustration. What would incline a parent to actually do a kindergartner’s assignment for them? Without a doubt, you as the parent have better dexterity than your kindergartner, and I’m pretty sure you can make a better scarecrow. But why steal this small victory from them? It’s obvious to everyone, including your child’s teacher, that the child didn’t actually do the assignment. I did some research to see what kind of long-term ramifications this type of “helicopter parenting” has. Turns out, it’s pretty severe, especially once the child gets to college. Take a look at what former dean of freshmen students at Stanford Julie Lythcott-Haims has to say about it . Basically, by doing so much for our children as they grow, we render them incapable of making a decision once they are on their own. Even children with outstanding GPAs and impressive extracurricular activities lack the ability to make life choices. In Lythcott-Haims own terms, they are “existentially impotent”.
How does this relate to a kindergarten scarecrow? Well, it sets a pattern. If your child expects to you do this assignment because “cutting is hard” or “I can’t color in the lines yet”, you inadvertently set a precedent that every time something is hard, you’ll be there to solve it. That may work when they are little, but it snowballs into a college student who can’t make simple choices on which classes to take without relying on mom to fill out his syllabus. And worse yet, those kids are expected to make it in their chosen professions.
Since scarecrow-gate, two other assignments have come home that have obviously elicited major parent overstep, including a turkey for Thanksgiving and a gingerbread man for Christmas. I will admit I helped with the gingerbread man as I don’t think CPS would approve of a six year old working a hot glue gun, so I held the glue gun while he pointed where I need to put dollops of molten glue so he could place candy, but everything else has been all him. The turkey with its feathers looked like it had some form of avian mange and the gingerbread man looked like a candy explosion, but he loves them, and most importantly, they are completely his. And that gift, the gift of personal accomplishment, is more important than a neatly feather turkey any day.