Guest Post: Mean Moms Rule!

Hi Folks! Here’s a post from a fellow writer who’s also a friend: Denise Schipani. She’s got a new book out, too! (See below.) —  L. 

Mean Moms Rule by Denise Schipani

My son’s 9-year-old friend, Luke, mows the lawn at his house.

A generation ago, legions of 9-year-olds would be out in back and front yards in every suburb in America, revving mowers and cutting the grass – and no one would think a thing of it. In fact, they might think it odd if, say, they saw a landscaping company mowing, while the 9-year-old was being chauffeured to a supervised activity at an indoor sports arena instead.

These days, at least where I live, Luke looks odd out there on the lawn. I bet it also looks odd when he and his little brother are waist-deep in the engine of their mom’s car, as their dad, our friend Dan, shows them how to change spark plugs or whatever it is one does with engines. Dan told me recently that he’s gotten alarmed comments from neighbors when they see Luke with the mower or his younger brother toting tools from the garage to help. Taken aback, they’ve said, “How can you let a child mow the lawn? That’s so dangerous!”

To which Dan – a major DIYer – scoffs, “No it’s not! I’ve taught him how to use the mower,” before getting back to some light work like replacing garage doors or building a retaining wall.

He’s right. Sure, mowing a lawn can be dangerous, but so can skateboarding and so can taking a bath. It’s about perspective, which many parents of my generation have lost a firm grip on – we seem to go into parenting presuming our children’s ongoing fragility, rather than assuming, as Dan has with his kids, their strength and competence. He impressed on his son the proper respect for machinery, but otherwise left him alone.

Free-Range yard work, perhaps? I think it’s a great idea, and after that conversation with Dan I sent my own 9- and 7-year-olds into the yard with a rake and some yard-waste bags. Why shouldn’t my own sons feel the same pride as Luke does in a job well done?

Denise Schipani is the mother of two boys, and the author of Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later (Sourcebooks). She blogs at Mean Moms Rule.

65 Responses

  1. I love this post! My neighbors laugh when they see my 3 year old dragging the recycle bin to the curb or helping wash the car. Both my kids have their own spray bottle (vinegar & water) and a rag that they clean with while I clean. It’s never perfect but they are 3 & 1. They love to help, so why not let them?

  2. Plus, it’s the best way I know to counter the “I wannas.” When my 5-year-old says he wants a particular toy, I say “OK, let’s figure out what you can do to earn enough money to buy it.” If it’s something he really wants, he’ll do the work (e.g. picking up pine cones at a penny apiece). If it’s just a fleeting desire, he’ll quickly forget about it when presented with the reality of what he’ll have to do to earn it.

  3. I agree completely. I started mowing the lawn at 12 but I put up such a huge fuss about it. We hope to inculcate our kids into hard work and contributing to the household during ele. school, before too much resistance develops. I wish my parents had pushed me more as a young person so that by the time I hit high school, it would have been an ingrained expectation to do that kind of work. I still hate chores.

  4. People are surprised when I tell them we never baby-proofed our house, especially not those outlet covers (I hate those things!) Instead, we taught our son, once he became interested in it, how to plug and unplug things in the sockets. Once he mastered that at about 20 months, he left them alone, although we can still ask him to unplug or plug in things (provided it’s not polarized) and he can do it. He’s never electrocuted himself either. If you teach them the right way to use something it becomes a tool instead of a toy and they’re much less ikely to hurt themselves using it improperly.

  5. The summer I was 9 my brothers and I shingled our house while my parents were at work. We were allowed to take a break during the day to go swimming in our pond. It was up to us to be carefull, as there was no phone in the house in case of emergancy, and our nearest neighbor was a mile away. Starting at age 12, each of us was responsible for cooking dinner one night a week. Train ’em right, and kids can be responsible and safe.

  6. Reblogged this on grandmarosecookbooks and commented:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

  7. Loved this post. I also believe it teaching children to do things. My five year old cooks real food– eggs, burgers, steak, mashed potatoes, etc. If there is something she enjoys eating (real food, not boxed brownies!) then I am happy to show her how to make it herself. Sure, she was afraid of the flame appearing out of the gas burner with a whoosh, but I still had her do it each time, and now it’s no big deal. It has done so much for her self esteem to get to the point that I can sit in the dining room, available but not involved, while she scrambles her own eggs in the morning. Could she possibly get burned? Yes! I burn myself all the time in the kitchen! Will she be OK and learn how to avoid these nuisances in the future? Absolutely!
    And it sure is a treat when I let her get bored, and she spontaneously decides to wash the dishes for me….

  8. I love it as well. Also, I checked out her site at large and especially liked her post about not raising professional victims. In it, she’s describing how one of her sons had a special occasion-day where much attention was doted on him, the other son was jealous, & rather than try and “make it right” and compensate, she said “it will be your turn in 2 years, go get some cake,” and that was it.

    Man, I LOVED that response.

    Here: yes, we have our kids clean up behind themselves & use the vacuum cleaner etc. Last year, we had our 8 year old nephew help mow the lawn of a friend we were helping out that way. We even video-recorded it. And get this: he was PROUD.

    It was just like the picture too, though–he was cutting grass, and I was standing under a shade-tree sipping on a Pepsi, pointing out spots he was missing, ha ha. So not only can you be a “mean mom,” you can be a mean uncle too. Besides, I’m the same uncle that lets him “free range” in our woods when no one else will allow him the same sort of age-appropriate freedom.

    LRH

  9. Like Robenheud, I never babyproofed our apartment. The only thing we used were plug guards. But German plug guards are much different from American ones and don’t need to be removed when you plug something in. We got some cabinet latches, but they didn’t work on our German cabinets. So we were (gasp!) not babyproofed. Somehow my son survived his baby and toddlerhood.

    A while back, my son wanted French toast for breakfast. I was ready to go for a run and didn’t feel like cooking it and told him that if he wanted it that badly, he had to make it himself. My husband was on a business trip, so my son couldn’t ask Dad to do it. Since he had never made French toast before, I told him what the ingredients were and how to mix them. He did everything on his own, though I did show him how hard he needed to beat the eggs. After he finished his breakfast, my son told me that he couldn’t wait for my husband to get home so that he could make French toast for him.

    I think that kids need chores so they understand what goes into making a household and family function. They also have to know how to cook, do laundry, do yard work, go grocery shopping, and all of the other tasks that are part of living in the real world. You can’t expect a kid who has never been allowed to use a toaster or a knife to suddenly know how to cook when he is 18 and goes off to college. As Dr. Phil likes to say, we are not raising children, we are teaching our kids to become adults. This is what will happen to kids in college with helicopter parents. It’s an old clip from the show “20/20.”

    A child’s self-esteem comes from mastery and not from constantly being told how wonderful you are or from getting a trophy for having a pulse and heartbeat.

  10. My 8 year old cannot wait to be big enough to cut grass! He has been begging for the past 2 summers. Unfortunatly he is extrememly short and even at 8 is not tall enough. We’re hoping he can do it by next year. He told me that all the “cool” kids in his class wear Puma shoes and he “needs” a pair. I only buy shoes from Payless. Instead of begging me for shoes, he looked them up online to see how much they were, counted his money, and then asked me if there were any extra chores he could do to earn some more money. I’m so glad that at 8 years old he already “gets it”.

    On an unrelated note, yesterday afternoon my two kids 8 & just turned 10 set off with several neighborhood children to explore the woods/creek area behind our subdivision. They go there a lot and I thought nothing of it. They were gone for 2 hours and came back soaking wet. I had not given them a time to be home but had expected them in an hour or so and had told them we would be having dinner soon. They came in telling be about how they decided to follow the creek, which of course meant having to cross it at a few points. They followed it far beyond our subdivision and all the way to the interstate highway! I did not get mad at them or punish them, I was even secretly impressed, but I did talk to them about being considerate of others. I and another mother had gone to the creek area to look for them for dinner and they weren’t there. We talked about how what they did wasn’t bad, but not telling me was very inconsiderate. I was left at home not knowing where they were or when they would be back, with a cold dinner. I’m very glad they got to have an adventure though 🙂

  11. My son isn’t old enough to mow yet, but I can’t wait until he is (it is hot in Texas summers). Every kid mowed when I was a teen (15 years ago). It was actually frustrating because it was difficult to “get business” from the old ladies in the neighborhood what with all the competition; I needed money for a car!. So my best friend and I sold our services to a local real estate company, mowing lawns of vacant houses. Our dads made us buy our own mower and weed-eaters, yet I still made more money when I was 16 than I did working my first “real” job out of college.

  12. When my daughter was born people were aghast at the fact that I would ask my then year and a half old to throw away her diapers and bring me things I needed. “How could you treat your child that way? He’s not a servant!” However *he* loved helping to take care of *his* baby sister. Still does. He also is a great help with cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, feeding the dog and we are learning to garden together (we’ve only lost half our plantings). He brings me tools when either I or my husband are fixing something and is working at his table manners. The excitement and pride on his face when he learns and masters new things is unmatched. He keeps asking me when he can earn his own money. He’s not quite mature enough for that yet, but he isn’t even three. However he wants to earn his own money and is working hard at doing things by himself so he can.

    Even more exciting than his eagerness to learn how to do things for himself is his joy in trying to teach his baby sister. You should see him try to show her how to use her fork and butter knife. Priceless.

    Meanwhile I have friends whose children are older than he is and still can’t throw things away for themselves, put their dishes in the sink or pick up their toys without help. I worry those kids will be lost, or injured, when they try to do things on their own having never been taught some basic skills.

  13. I love reading all these stories about parents who are actually teaching their kids how to work, instead of waiting on them hand and foot. It gives me some hope for the future.

  14. My 2-year-old has to sort her laundry, put dishes away, take out the trash, and sweep. My family was aghast at this as well. They also scolded me for letting her use a toddler knife. It’s only sharp enough to cut noodles, honestly. These are the same people whose 20-something year old children, my cousins, don’t do their own laundry and can’t cook for themselves.

  15. I was never allowed to mow the lawn as a kid. I actually asked if I could, but my dad said I could lose a foot in the lawn mower motor.

  16. I love all these replies, thanks so much! It’s interesting that many of you are talking about chores your little kids are required to do, or life skills you want them to learn and be able to do — that is the whole subject of one of my new book’s chapters. There are SO many reasons to be sure kids can do things like mow a lawn, make French toast, fold their clothes, wash a car — all of it. There’s the pride; the potential entrepreuneurship, and my biggest reasoning: the eventual independence! I have a nephew who is about to turn 20, and he had to ask his younger sister how to make pasta. NOt a complicated sauce, just… boiling water and cooking pasta. It’s hilarious, in its way, but also sad.

    Denise
    ps: There was no childrproofing when my kids were babies, either, aside from a stair gate after we moved to our house.

  17. Yup, my 8 yr old mows, trims, and uses the leaf blower. He cooks and does dishes and mops and does laundry. (Not all of those things all the time, I’m not that mean. He picks a couple big chores a week.) He builds stuff, with power tools, all by himself. Haven’t got him helping me with the car yet. He hasn’t had the interest. But with all the work he does, I wouldn’t consider myself the mean mom, and neither would anyone I know. His friends are extremely jealous of his life. We unschool. He’s got freedom to direct his own education and spend his time the way he wants. He eats what he wants, when he wants with very few restrictions. He is free to roam to the park, through the neighborhood and into the woods just beyond, even after last week’s incident with the nail that went through his shoe into his foot.(No big deal, really.) I have felt for a long time that the freedom to make one’s own choices and the ability to participate in and contribute to one’s community is essential to well-being, even for young children, and I am more convinced of this every day that I watch my kids and the choices they make.

  18. Lenore, could you consider writing about when free-range kids create a real emergency situation, and how to not freak out and wrap them in bubble wrap after the first responders have packed up their stuff and gone home?

  19. I am so happy that there are others out there like us! Our 2y daughter and 3y son both help with yard work. Matter of fact, they go get shovels and dig in the mulch on the days that I want to just rest after a long day. Granted they aren’t moving much mulch, they are out with us working. I could do the spring tune up on the tractor in an hours work. My son helped and it took 1/2 a day. AWESOME I SAY! Why not take the time to show him it’s not just riding around on the mower with dad, but it’s also maint and work. He loves it, I love it, and in the end he will understand there is more than just iphones and TV. The days that my wife, my daughter, my son, our dog, and I are all out together working are the happiest most awesome days!

  20. Nice timing — my almost-14 yod* (who is the size and overall appearance of an 11-12 year old) just got her first lesson in lawn-mowing with the self-propelled mower last night. My neighborhood’s pretty Free Range but I’ll bet in some places she’d turn heads.

    *I like Internet abbreviations, as long as they are widely understood. I fully intend to use them whenever I feel like it, despite other people’s preferences not to use them. That’s for LRH, but I won’t bring it up every time I use an abbreviation. 😉

  21. I love that my kids (four and six years old) help with stuff around the house. And mostly, it’s not because I tell them they have to, they want to learn. Especially with anything gadget-like, such as the dishwasher, washer and dryer, built-in vac–basically anything with buttons.

    And leaves, what kid doesn’t LOVE raking up the leaves and then jumping in them before bagging them. I’m not sure I’d consider this a chore. I think it’s way more of a fun activity, with a smidge of work tucked in.

    Besides the fact that they’re enjoying themselves, they’re learning to do things for themselves (and to help in the family), things that they’ll need to know as adults.

    Our little added incentive is a jar for each kid, where they can earn marbles when they want to help out with chores (outside of the expected stuff like plates in the dishwasher, dirty laundry in the hamper, toys away, etc). When the jar is full they earn an allowance.

    Around our house, it’s pretty common to hear, “I know, I know, you’re not my butler, Mom.” I’ve tried really hard to teach them that we ALL work together in a family to keep things running smoothly. One person’s time isn’t less important than anyone else, and the more they help, the more time I have to play!

  22. my friend started mowing his lawn when he was 7. His father bribed him into it by letting him mow a maze into the lawn and keeping it there a few days before mowing the rest. It never got tall enough to be an actual maze, but he sure had a blast!

  23. This reminded me of the past weekend. I walked into the backyard to find my husband and 3 year old son working on their bikes. Our son was taught how to grease the chain on dad’s bike and oil the ball bearings on his own tricycles wheels. The pride on his face was wonderful!

  24. Reblogged this on a hockey coach's corner of the world and commented:
    This is a great post. My kids are out in front of my house either playing or doing yard work most weekend days. The older neighbors always say it is so nice seeing your kids outside all the time and the younger neighbors ask how to get their kids outside. Then I get the comments about how could I let my 9 year old mow the lawn while I am sitting in a chair watching. It is very easy.

  25. I loved the book “The Entitlement Trap.” I took heed of their advice and set up a “Family Economy” for our older kids (9 and 11) and the rule is, you can’t join until you’re 8. My 7-year-old is counting the days until she’s eligible, and has a renewed interest in honing her math skills, since they’re required for the banking and chequebook. There’s now a real culture of participation, respect, responsibility, and ownership around here, for which I am very grateful.

    My husband and I were at our wit’s end with the boys not taking care of their stuff, whining that their skateboard wasn’t good enough while leaving it out in the rain, even purposely destroying things they didn’t think were cool enough, hoping we’d swoop in and replace them with brand new. No more! And suddenly, we’ve got two extra sets of hands helping with all sorts of tasks around the house! They’re learning how to run a home, how to earn and manage money, and we get support and see our values reflected in our kids — everybody wins!

    I was having trouble (more like I was a deer in the headlights) figuring out how to teach my kids about money and contribution around the house WITHOUT guilt and nagging, and this system is really terrific for us.

  26. Great post. I’m completely aligned with you…

  27. Yesterday my first-grader asked me to move some plates, cups and bowls to a lower cabinet so he could retrieve them himself. (Why hadn’t I thought of that?). This morning I came downstairs to find him sitting at the table completely dressed for school, enjoying a bowl of cereal with milk. He was beaming! Then he proudly told me, “I didn’t even spill any milk, Mom!”

  28. Mollie, that book sounds interesting. I need to check it out.

  29. When we moved into our apartment in American Samoa, I put all the dishes in a bottom cabinent so that my daughter could reach. It’s a pain in the butt to reach there for me so now it’s my daughter’s job to put away the dishes.

  30. Moden mowers have become quite safe! We purchased a new lawn mower last summer after our 18yo one finally died and we couldn’t get replacement parts. The blade on the new mower will stop turning instantly when the handle is released, so there is no chance of slipping under a spinning blade. My then 10yo started mowing the yard by himself last summer – he’s thrilled to get the money we pay him for an extra chore.

  31. My five year old snips the stray branches off our bushes. He also has helped build planters and plant our garden this year. My three year old waters the garden and helps pull weeds. Today we all three washed and detailed the car. In exchange for vacuuming, clearing dishes (and drying the ones that are hand washed), folding and putting away clothes, taking care of the dog and keeping their room clean they each get $3 a week. A few months ago they had saved up enough to buy the Lego Batcave that they’d both been wanting since before Christmas. It was $70!!! Now they are both trying to do extra chores so they can get the new Avenger Legos.

  32. I will never forget when I was about 17 and caddying for a rich guy in his 20s who asked me how they got the different colored stripes on the fairway. I was taken aback and then it hit me–he had NEVER mowed a lawn in his life. He had no idea that grass bends when you mow it. At that moment I swore to myself I would be sure to make my children mow the lawn. Now 16 years later I have a 3 year old. As soon as he can, he will be mowing.

  33. Delora–please don’t put too much faith in the fail safe on the mower. It doesn’t replace good safety advice like not reaching under a mower (turn it over) and trying to always use a stick not a hand to loosen impediments.

  34. I was never allowed to mow the lawn as a kid, and I asked my father repeatedly to teach me how. He refused on the grounds that I would damage the lawn (couldn’t have the neighbors see a less than perfect lawn, could we?!) or somehow kick up a rock and scratch his car (which was worth nothing and had seen better days).

    So apparently I was “special” and “gifted” enough to be in the honor program at school, but was so completely incompetent I couldn’t manage basic yardwork. Way to go there, dad.

  35. My kids, 9 and 6, make their own breakfasts (cereal and milk, scrambled eggs, fruit, English muffins) and pack their own lunches for school. They load and unload the dishwasher. They put away all their own laundry. The 9 year old often helps with the family laundry, goes to the grocery store by himself, and makes simple meals for dinner. They both help their dad with the car maintenance, help us both with repairs around the house, and at Halloween, help sew their own costumes. I am amazed at how many people are surprised that my kids do these things. I thought I was supposed to be teaching them how to be competent adults.

  36. Cool story. There seems to be a precious when kids desperately WANT to learn how to do chores. Best parenting book I read while pregnant was on early Montessori education. It talked about taking advantage of a child’s “sensitive periods.” Basically saying that a parent or teacher should always break down life skill things into steps and allow the child a chance to take over any step. (And once they take over, make it their responsibility as much as reasonable). The other key idea that stuck with me was that a parent’s number one job, is to guide the child toward becoming a responsible adulthood.

    Based on that advice I started asking my daughter to put her arms through her sleeves/ take them out, pretty much since her first day home. She was always easy to dress/undress, at least if you let her help. As I found out from from my husband, … she could be impossible, and make it take 5x as long if you tried to do it for her.

    Around 10 months old she was fascinated with the dishwasher and I knew she was capable of handing things to me. So I told her I would let her reach in the dishwasher if she would hand me the silverware. Sure we had a few forks and spoons hit the floor, and it took forever. But there isn’t a toy in the house, or a thing I could to to make her happier. At 14 months she is learning about “loading” as well as “unloading”, is starting to help with the small plates, and she loves closing the dishwasher.

    A month of so ago, she gave the guinea pigs their food when dad turned his back for a moment. So now that is her job. She also gives them hay, and makes sure we change the water.

    She honestly prefers chores or being outside to her toys. I suspect my girl will LOVE yard work.

  37. We bought a manual mower so our then 9 year old son could mow the lawn (or weeds, depends which spot you look at) without worries.

  38. Was trying to find a way to email you directly, but my husband is Aaron who commented above ‘Lenore, could you consider writing about when free-range kids create a real emergency situation, and how to not freak out and wrap them in bubble wrap after the first responders have packed up their stuff and gone home?’

    Both my husband and I agree that kids are capable of much more than people give them credit for. But, we lost one of our children at 5 days old, and recognize that we treat her twin sister differently than we would have if we hadn’t lost her sister. What advice would you give to parents like us – who agree with free range parenting, but in the back of your mind can’t shake that very real terror of losing a child as we already have. Our loss wasn’t due to free range parenting persea(she died in her sleep) but if given the choice, I swear that Aaron would literally wrap her in bubble tape and hold her in his arms forever to aviod losing another child. Which I understand. Totally. But I also feel strongly that our children need to be raised to be confidant strong people, and allowing them freedom is the best way to do that. Any words of wisdom?

  39. My son turned five last month, and has been helping his dad with mowing/raking/trimming since he could toddle around the yard. He is currently working on getting the ground ready for some raised beds he and his dad are going to build, and he handles a full-sized shovel better than I can. When there is something he wants, we talk about how much it will cost, and what jobs he can do to earn the money, and he decides if it’s worth it to him (and if it isn’t, that’s fine, but we don’t swoop in and buy it for him). We expect him to contribute to the running of our household, and when he is old enough, if he wants a vehicle, he will need to work for it; likewise for college (we will contribute, but we believe he needs to make the bigger investment, financially and in terms of time). I am surprised by some of the responses we get when we talk about this with friends. Their utter horror at the thought of their kids WORKING–isn’t it our job to help them reach self-sufficiency?

  40. […] Hi Folks! Heres a post from a fellow writer whos also a friend: Denise Schipani. Shes got a new book out, too! (See below.)   L.  Mean Moms Rule by Denise Schipani My son’s 9-year-old friend, Luke, mows the lawn at his house. A generation ago, legions of 9-year-olds would be out in back and front … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  41. @Cece, and @Aaron
    I am so terribly sorry for your loss. I can not imagine how hard that is.
    I know when my daughter cries for me I sometimes still imagine her the way she was in the NICU. And I want to coddle her tremendously. I have to remind myself that it is my job to make sure she gets what she NEEDS, even when it isn’t what she wants. And I have to remind myself of who she is NOW, instead of that little baby covered in wires and tubes. I remind myself that she needs to learn about life, even when it makes her cry. I also remember that she needs to see that I am not afraid, (even when I am). I spent a lot of time pretending to be more calm than I was. Once I forced myself to act calm, I started to thinking more clearly. But I still had to hold back that initial gasp or startle.

    Then about a week ago, she fell on the side walk and got her first skinned knee. And to my surprise, in the split second I saw it coming, I wasn’t scared. I knew she would have a skinned knee, and I knew that having a skinned knee is okay.

    There is a book called “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee.” In it the author (a psychologist) talks about how you have to teach children act correctly, they may not feel correctly, but the feelings will improve once the behavior is corrected. I think the same can apply to all of us.

    I think once I forced myself to push past the panic, I started seeing my daughter more clearly and see risk more clearly. A simple fall, the bumps and bruises of everyday life are not going to send her back to the NICU. She and I both have been through worse than this. When I resurfaced from the fear and self doubt, I also found there is infinity more pleasure in being the mom of who she is today.

  42. I’ve cut grass since I was 10. During the summer it was rare when I didn’t have less than $50 in my wallet. My neighborhood had a lot of steep hills and a lot of older people, so I specialized in cutting the banks with a gas mower and a rope. After taking a shop in 9th grade, I started fixing mowers. I was the only one around who made housecalls on my bike with tools in a backpack. The two local shop had plenty of business and actually referred me to work on smaller push mowers and made sure that I had access to parts at a discount. This was in the late ’70s, early ’80s. These days my parents would be arrested for child abuse and I would be fined for not having a business license.

  43. I must admit that I’m a bit slack with getting my 7yo to do chores. But she has started to make me my first coffee in the morning (bliss!) and I am teaching her how to cook and she has made a few meals all by herself.

    And I have often been wondering when she will be old enough to mow the lawn!

  44. […] Hi Folks! Heres a post from a fellow writer whos also a friend: Denise Schipani. Shes got a new book out, too! (See below.)   L.  Mean Moms Rule by Denise Schipani My son’s 9-year-old friend, Luke, mows the lawn at his house. A generation ago, legions of 9-year-olds would be out in back and front … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  45. @Cece,

    I grew up with a younger brother, 2.5 yrs younger than myself, who was chronically, terminally ill. We all knew that one day his disease would take him from us, though the opinions differed on how long we would have him with us. Thankfully, my mother took the “Life is short, live while you can” approach and raised us without that being a defining factor. We learned self-reliance, had adventures, got into scrapes… and got ourselves out of them. I know that my brother felt he’d had a good and full life, even if it was shorter than many. Having been taught independence as we grew, we were actually better equipped to handle any sort of emergency or crisis situation we did run into than many other kids we knew (and certainly more than a large number of kids today). Had we been coddled, or over-protected, I truly believe we would have been *less* safe in life. Certainly we would have been less able to “roll with the punches” that are a part of normal living.
    Proof of this came when I was in my late teens, a few years after my brother passed away, and it turned out that my mother’s “healthy” child… wasn’t. We discovered that I had an undetected genetic issue that only came to light when things got Dire. Being right on the edge of adulthood, it was up to me to learn to deal with this and the huge life changes that came with it. I was, as my mother pointed out, the one who was going to have to live with these realities in my life. Thanks to the way my mother raised me, I was able to “take it in stride” as much as is possible with something that big. I adapted and have still had a full life, even with my health problems. I now have a twelve year old daughter of my own, and she is thriving with the same sort of confidence and competence that I really believe was my mother’s best gift to me.
    As parents, we can never *know* that our kids are going to be safe, always. We can’t *know* that nothing is going to happen to them. I believe the best thing we can do for them is to give them the tools and the confidence to face the bumps and bruises that life throws at us all, with grace and surety. Trust me, my brother, stepbrothers and myself all gave my mother (more than?) our fair share of worries (and grey hairs, she assures me), but I have learned that this is an unavoidable part of being a parent, no matter how “careful” you are. She still worries about me (of course! she’s a mom!), but when I am dealing with some of life’s bigger ups and downs and she’s giving me what advice she can from far away (she lives overseas, now), she tells me that as much as she wishes she could be here to help, she knows that I’ll figure it out, “because [I} always do.” And she’s right. I do, thanks to her. That’s what I want to give my daughter. It won’t stop me from worrying (I’m a mom!), but it will allow me to know she is perfectly capable of facing life on her own, and of finding her own happiness just as I have.

  46. Oh, and I wanted to say that this post made me smile, a lot. So did the guest poster’s site, in general. I have another site to add to my very short list of favorite parenting pages.

    It’s a good day when I am reassured that the *entire* parenting world hasn’t gone crazy. Heh.

  47. My five year old and seven year old did most of the work to prepare for our extended family coming for Easter dinner. The five year old was on kitchen duty so she set the table, prepared the ham, trimmed the green beans, made the salad, etc., while the seven year old dusted and vacuumed the main floor, washed the floor and cleaned the bathroom (including the toilet). When our family arrived and commented on how kind it was for us to entertain since we are so busy with the kids, I had to point out that I was running errands and at the gym while the kids did most of the work. The kids were quite proud of their efforts and I was a lot less stressed out before entertaining and could enjoy the day more.

  48. This is awesome, and is helping me to stretch my brain to think how I can get my daughter to do chores. She complained about making her bed the other day, but I told her it’s now her job. One night when I was putting her to bed, she said she was going to sleep on top of her covers so she woudn’t have to make her bed in the morning. Oyi!

    We get her to set the table sometimes, and do other things like bring her plate to the counter when she’s done eating.

    Thanks everyone!

  49. In our house, hitting the age of eight and learning to mow the lawn was a rite of passage. We couldn’t wait to turn eight and be able to mow the lawn! Of course, by the time I was sixteen, the novelty had well worn off and I loathed it.

    That’s why when I was in college (1996-2000) I was greatly surprised to read an article from my home state that said that it was now against the law to allow anyone under the age of sixteen to operate any type of yard equipment and machinery, including lawn mowers, edgers, etc. The article went on about how under that age, kids are not strong enough or have the ability to adequately control such equipment. I thought it was bizarre back then, so it’s not surprising to me now that seeing a 9-year-old mow the lawn is an anomaly. However, despite reading that, and not knowing for certain if that is truly a law still or ever really was, I still taught my 8-year-old son last summer how to mow the lawn. He hasn’t had much opportunity to do it, since our yard is on a hill and it’s really hard for us to push the mower sideways, but when we move to a house with a flat yard, we will expect all our kids to help maintain the yard.

    There is a risk in everything we do. The thing is we have to teach responsibility and awareness and let our kids know there is risk and what to watch out for. Things could still happen, but those things could happen to an adult as well.

  50. I know of two people who have run over their toes while lawnmowing – both adults who evidently didn’t have the sense to wear closed-toed shoes. Simple instruction, people…
    I also had a friend growing up who lived on an acreage who’s job it was to use the riding lawn mower regularly to keep the yard mowed. It was an expectation when she was 11, because there was too much work to be done for her NOT to help her family. This girl grew up with a tremendous work ethic – she was expected to work, because work needed to be done. It wasn’t some ‘chore’ her parents gave her to be annoying, and even as a child, I recognized the difference.

  51. Yes! I could not agree more. My 8- and 11-year old boys alternate between cursing my meanness and recognizing that they have more life skills than most of their friends.

  52. My kids have not started using the lawnmower, but only because I want to use it to get a good workout! This summer though, I think the older two do need to learn how to use it and maintain it.

    When we moved, we got about 3 acres of land, much of it pasture. We got a tractor (which the boys LOVED helping to get in optimal running condition) to mow. But, we waited too long, and the grass was so high it needed to be raked to prevent matting (and fire danger.) So, the kids and I got out hand rakes. And over several days, we raked it and loaded it into a wagon to use for our animals. We did that several times that summer, and it was long, hot work. But, the kids didn’t complain. The next summer, we got a 100 year old hay rake. It turns the hay to get it dry, and puts it into rows, making it much easier to get onto the wagon. Putting it on the wagon took us a few hours, not days. We have some wonderful photos of the kids stomping the hay 8 feet in the air on the wagon with no sides.

    This year we have been studying state history. A couple weeks ago the book covered how mechanization revolutionized farming, making the work much easier and quicker, allowing the farmers to work more land with less effort and waste. Even my 1st grader totally “got it”, much better than the the majority of kids their age and older would have understood, because they had lived it.

    My kids don’t think I am mean, mostly because when we go and get the hay, or the tumble weeds, or garden and such, they have a friend who when in the neighborhood, REALLY wants to come and help. I think that because of that, they realize that they have it lucky, not all kids get to do this. And they do feel proud of their work.

  53. My daughter’s karate teacher said everytime they get a new belt they should get a new chore around the house. This last time she started running the dishwasher for me. She has been folding her own laundry for a while. She has another belt test in June and I think she should sweep the living/dining room and into the kitchen. Our kitchen is not big enough to eat in. I can do it in about 5 minutes it would probably take her about 10 minutes would be my guess. She is 10 years old and an only but definitely not spoiled girl.

  54. I’m surprised that in 54 comments not a single person has brought up the topic of protective equipment. I have no problem letting a young kid mow the lawn, but ANYONE who mows the lawn should be wearing safety glasses and hearing protection. Mowers are loud enough to do permanent hearing damage, and the junk that mowers kick up is enough to do serious eye damage.

    I never wore this stuff as a kid mowing lawns, but I’ve seen the results of what _can_ happen when you don’t wear it, and it’s a VERY easy step to take. My kids (1, 3, 5) wear hearing and eye protection if they are playing in the yard while I mow the lawn.

    Is this, after all, the Free Range philosophy: control the risks we can while understanding that we have to live our lives with _some_ risk?

  55. Mitbeta,
    I have to question the safety equipment that you mention. Most new mowers make considerably less noise than in the past. In my opinion being able to hear what is going around you is of more importance than ear protection

    As far as safety glasses or a face shield is concerned, most mowing is done during warm weather, when glasses or a shield tend to fog up due to perspiration. I believe that the risk of not being able to see what you are doing out weighs the chance of eye injury.

    I am in favor of wearing long pants and sturdy shoes as well as making sure that your mower is in good repair with all of the guards in place and the automatic shutoff working. Making sure that your yard is free of debris is also important.

  56. @Jim: I’ve never had safety glasses fog up on me, and I used to have to wear them all the time at my last job.

    I can believe mowers are less noisy than they used to be, but hearing protection doesn’t block out all sound, it just mutes it. If you can’t hear the sounds around you over the sound of the mower, it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing hearing protection or not.

    My point here is that as a community we recognize that the risk of driving our kids somewhere is greater (generally) than letting them walk there instead. There are real risks in the world than can be mitigated to a point. Do I think young kids should be able to use a power mower? Yes. Do I think there are things we can do to make it safer for them to do so? Absolutely. Your suggestions are great, too.

  57. My son can’t wait til he is tall enough to use the push mower. He grew a lot over the winter so maybe this year.

  58. I have no problem with safety. If I am teaching someone to do anything, it is my obligation to also to show them the hazards of what they are doing and how to mitigate those hazards. To me it goes along with the Free Range mind set. Everything has it’s time and it’s placed. Safety fits right in there. Being able to identify the hazards and taking the proper precautions to deal with them is part of being responsible for yourself. I’m fairly sure that safety wasn’t brought up before is that is was assuned to be a given. George Carlin used to do a bit on “Have a Nice Day”. Listen to it and you will see why I have a problem with people who wish me a “safe” anything.

  59. I’m thinking it might be best to use an unpowered motor, one that doesn’t have any gas or electricty or any of that.

    Or you could just dig it all up and plant clover and irish moss and avoid the hassle. Laziness ftw?

  60. When I was a kid if I ever complained about being bored my mother announced that she would cure this by giving me work to do. This made me EXTREMELY IMAGINATIVE in order to avoid having to do more work than necessary! Healthy stuff and good leverage for the parents!

  61. mitbeta: Our powered mower is electric, running off a battery. So it’s very quiet. I definitely agree about the glasses. I just wear my prescription sunglasses (plastic, not glass) and though I’ve had nothing big kick up, they’ve kept plenty of dirt out of my eyes.

    My older child is mildly autistic, which means we’ve had a few more battles regarding what he can and cannot do, though now that he’s in preschool I may be able to let him help more. His little sister (who just turned two) is very helpful on some things, and it is a surprising contrast.

  62. While wearing regular glasses is better than nothing, safety glasses are 10 times stronger than most regular glasses. I’ve seen pictures of damage that things in a lawn can do to regular glasses (sticks protruding through lenses, pebble damage, etc.) that safety glasses would stop.

    I got my kids some really cute, kid sized safety glasses and ear muffs. Google “dyno-mites safety glasses”.

  63. While driving to Wal de Mart yesterday, we drove past a kid mowing the lawn – looked about 8 or 9. Made me yearn for the days when people actually let their kids participate in life, instead of being sheltered from everything. I was mowing the whole yard by 12. Only rule – wear shoes. That was the year I found out the workings of a lawnmower, from taking it fully apart, to reassembling it (and it still worked). When my friends and I went fishing, we had knives, pliers, all the stuff needed for fishing – we were around 8. And mowers that are push-driven – the OLD type – the reel mowers – those actually work the best for having a nicely cut lawn. The reel keeps moving when you stop pushing it, if I remember. Just drill in common sense. Like “don’t stick your finger into the beaters while they’re still moving” type of thing is what I got. And was told innumerable times “stoves are hot” and learned the hard way by putting my elbow on a hot burner.

  64. Reblogged this on Russell's Rants and Raves and commented:
    Fantastic!

  65. Childhood is for LIVING, not doing yardwork or folding laundry, you dunce!

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