I’ve recently decided I do WAY too much for my kids. GASP! I must be a terrible mother. How could I ever say something like that? Well, truth be told, the fact that I just said that makes me a good mother. But I had to give myself permission to say that without guilt. That’s what I learned at a horse ranch with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. It was a powerful insight—not only for parenting, but for leading.
Let me tell you how I got to that realization….
It starts with Girl Scouts cookie sales. About this time last year, our Girl Scout troop took Cookie Sales way more seriously than I ever did as a kid. We’re a pretty relaxed troop – we think the cookie sales process is more about the skills and confidence that the girls learn through the process of developing a goal, creating a plan, and selling cookies than it is about how many cookies they’ve sold. In that process, I was pretty insistent that my daughters OWN the process – they had to sell the cookies, calculate totals and change, and close the sale. I was so proud of them- for the second year in a row they had a blast and I saw their confidence grow.
All the girls in the troop had a similar drive and the end result was a LOT of cookie sales, which meant a nice chunk of change for our troop. Because the girls were the ones that sold the cookies, they were the ones that got to pick the outing. They chose a horse ranch camp. I was just as excited as they were, but was planning to come back exhausted. When I think of camping, I think set-up, cooking, washing dishes, cleaning, outdoors stuff, more cooking and cleaning, etc. All lots of fun, but lots of work.
The first night at camp one of the camp directors called all the adults into a separate building for a “chaperones” meeting. We dropped off the girls in a big stable with camp counselors and walked away. ANOTHER GASP! When we got in the room, the camp director told us about the weekend agenda, the logistical information we needed to know, etc. He then made one special announcement, which started with, “I want you to hear me – we don’t need you.” Wait what? But I’m a mom! I’m a leader and volunteer! How could you not need me!?!
But the truth was, he didn’t need us. He stated that his camp counselors were pros at their jobs and had everything covered – and he was right.
He then continued. “But what I don’t want you to hear is we don’t want you.” He explained that we were welcome to come and watch anything we wanted and to participate as we wished for most activities. However, he also gave us permission to relax, read a book, drink some coffee and chat with the other parents. It may sound silly, but I personally needed that permission to take a step back. As a working parent, I felt guilty giving it to myself. I needed this stranger to give it to me.
I took him up on that permission and had fun chatting with the other moms. Most of all, however, I enjoyed watching my girls have so much fun with their friends. What a gift that was.
Something else amazing happened. When I sat back and watched, my girls couldn’t use me as a crutch when they were scared. When it was time to vault on a horse, they were so engrossed with the activity itself that they didn’t need me to be there to hold their hand. They didn’t look at me to give them the answer. When I was in the background vs the forefront they had to figure it out on their own. The beauty of this is they felt more confident in themselves afterwards. They gained more because I did less.
I remember having a similar ah-ha as a leader years ago. I was a poor delegator because I felt bad giving people work to do. So I stepped in and did a lot for them. Over time, however, I realized something powerful: when I did too much for those on my team, I was denying them the change to grow. When I started to delegate more and engage others more deeply in the work that needed to be done, not only did they grow, but the end output/result was significantly better. Once again, they gained more because I did less.
As a working parent, I find that I try to do all these “extra things to make up for the fact that I work.” As a divorced parent, I put extra pressure on myself to do all the burdensome things when my kids are with their dad because I want to spend fun time with them when they’re with me. This weekend at the horse ranch helped me reframe that a bit.
If I only clean the house when they’re gone, how will I instill the value, pride, and work ethic that goes into a clean house? My mom would play Breakfast with the Beatles on Sunday morning and we would clean the house for hours. I don’t think of that memory with dread (oh man, we had to clean the house!) but rather with a fond smile and many tunes in my head. And now I love a clean house.
I have many memories of working together as a family—painting the house, building a room, taking care of the yard—and I can vividly see my brothers and I working together on them. I’m not scarred by those memories at all. In fact, I’m more successful in my life because of them. That same work ethic has followed me my entire life. I gained more because my parents did less.
To be clear, my parents needed the help at home because they worked hard jobs without the flexibility that I’m afforded today at my job. But that’s not the only reason why my parents expected us to help. We had to help because we were part of the family, and the family is a team – a team that works together.
So remember this when you’re tempted to do everything for your kids or your team: don’t be the “ball hog”. Pass the ball, and when needed, rest on the bench. Your kids and your work teams want a chance to play – even if they’re not asking for it.
If you get stuck wondering if you need to give yourself permission to let something go, consider these questions:
- Are you doing this task because you want to feel important/valued or because you’re really the only/best person to do it?
- Could someone else learn from doing the same thing?
- Could someone do it even better than you?
- Are you enabling someone to not contribute or grow by holding this task?
- Will this person eventually need to know how to do this task in their life/job, and if so, what is the right timing for them to learn it?
My kids chore list has grown as a result of this ah-ha, and so have they. The same is true of my team – they’ve stepped up in ways I can’t even believe in these past few weeks.
They’ve all gained more because I’ve done less. And as I continue to remind myself of this, who knows what I’ll do with the extra time I have. Maybe I’ll get back to writing more blog posts!