Why I Keep My Kids in My Basement

Yes, I keep my kids in the basement. Before you go calling DFACS, let me explain.

When I was growing up in the late 70’s, through the entire 80’s, and into the early 90’s, things were different then. In the words of one of my favorite singer/songwriter’s @CoreySmithMusic “…and now my conversations start with ‘when I remember when…”. I remember when we didn’t lock the door to our house more often than not. I remember when my parents (who both worked full-time jobs) left in the morning and told me “ride your bike to go see your grandmother today” which was several miles from my house. I remember when I was told to ride my bicycle to the YMCA to play for my kickball team while they were off at work. I remember doing this riding without a helmet. I remember my mom teaching me how to cook (mainly chicken and spaghetti since those were the only things she knew how to make). I remember doing a lot of things back then that kids don’t do today.

How many of you reading this make your kids wear a bicycle helmet? How many of your 13-year-olds know how to make more than something they can just stick in the microwave? Wash their own clothes? Know what their grades are? When your kids have free time do they sit in front of their video game device of choice or Netflix or (Lord help us) YouTube?

Think about the bicycle helmet question for a minute. How many of you that raised your hand said, “yes, because its safe”? Yes, you all did. So if that’s the case, was it not safe when you were a kid because very few people reading this who were born before 1980 or maybe even 1985 wore bicycle helmets as a kid. This is a microcosm of our society as a whole. When we were kids our parents went off to work or did their thing and left us to our own environment. We were told to “go play”. And we did. We didn’t have mom or dad walking us across each crosswalk. We didn’t have them holding our hand every time we left the house or making playdates for us.

What happened when we fell off our bicycles and scratched ourselves up or cut ourselves open? What happened when we drove out in front of car and nearly got hit or maybe even got tapped? We’d go home, get a band-aid, maybe a few stitches, possibly get yelled at or chastised by a parent. Then what would we do? We’d go back out the next day and we’d actually be more careful. We actually LEARNED something from our mistakes.
I remember as I was getting ready to go to college and my mom was explaining to me how to wash clothes so I knew how to do it when I got there. She gave me the most basic instructions and said “ok, its all yours.” About 2 weeks into college, I was wearing pink clothes to all my classes. That was the last time I washed my whites with my reds. I LEARNED.

As I sit and listen to my parent-clients’ day in and day out, I’m amazed at not only my own “failures” with my son who is a high school senior, but at the culture that today’s parents are engrossed in. I remember as my son was growing up believing that I should protect him and show him that I loved him by trying to make his life easier. It was well intentioned, just like my own clients today are well intentioned. But in our good intentions, we, as a society are really doing an amazing disservice to our kids. We follow every grade online and remind them to do their homework. I’ve seen many parents do their kids homework for them! Don’t get me started about the parents who write their kid’s college application essays. We nearly have a heart attack if they produce work that isn’t “A” quality or as good as little Johnny’s. We walk them through every single phase of life and we absolutely refuse to let them fail. We flat out refuse! What exactly are we teaching them?

We’re teaching them to be helpless. We’re teaching them that they can’t succeed in life without us standing over them and guide them in every conceivable way. We aren’t raising them to be adults. We’re raising them to be children.

I love my parents dearly and all in all they were fantastic parents. They gave me the tools and experiences to be a successful adult. However, one of my most frustrating memories is when my dad, who is and was extremely handy, asked me to come help him. His idea of helping him was to tell me “go over there and get that thing and bring it to me so I can fix this doodad.” I never knew what anything was called. I never learned how to actually fix anything.

With that being said, they NEVER did my homework for me. Most of the time they didn’t ask if I even had homework. They signed my papers when the teacher sent them home but generally they saw my grades at the end of every 6-weeks. My guess is they never even knew my high school or college GPA other than to know that I graduated Cum Laude from undergrad and I went on to get my doctorate. After my immediate lesson on chicken and spaghetti, I figure out how to cook on my own and now love to cook for my 3 kids.

Luckily, I learned from my mistakes with my oldest who will be attending Florida State University this coming summer. I started changing actually a few years ago when two things grabbed my attention. I started becoming concerned about how he would handle college if and when he got there. He couldn’t, literally, function on his own. I needed to help him get there. And I needed to do that by doing less, not more. The other more eye-opening experience happened when I asked him to do a task at home. After contemplating (not even attempting) that task for less that 60 seconds, he literally went to go find his 8-year-old sister to help him. I actually blurted out in shock, “you need your 8-year-old sister to help you do this?” Then I realized that indeed he did.

In evaluating my own parenting successes and flaws, I realized that over the 12 or 13 years I had been raising him, I had set him up for failure by trying to be too good of a parent. It was time for a change.

My first task…teach all of them how to cook. The very first thing they learned together was shrimp and grits (by their choosing). Probably the most inedible thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. It was a $25 lesson, but a lesson that is joked about in my house to this very day. They learned the difference between 1 tbs of salt vs 1 c. of salt. They used the 1 c. of salt. Five years later, all 3 of my kids (18, 13, and 9) can make a full meal. A meal, not a sandwich or a hot pocket. A meal. If we are busy as parents, we tell them to pull out a cookbook and make dinner. They wash their own clothes, clean their own rooms, know when to brush their teeth, etc.

What’s this got to do with keeping my kids in the basement? A year ago we finished our basement. We furnished it. It’s a place where our kids can go be kids. They can go down there and get away from gymnastics and college prep and homework. They can play pool, hang out with their friends, have sleepovers (that THEY initiate), make a mess, clean it up. It’s a place where they do arts and crafts and make things for their friends. They wrap birthday presents and good luck gifts. It’s a place for them. The kids. It’s a place where they can grow up and not be under the ever watchful eye of the adult. We have a mini-fridge where we keep beer, wine, sodas and where they have to make good decisions. It’s a place where my 18-year-old goes with his friends and they have to decide whether to sneak the alcohol or take the sodas and waters instead. It’s a place where they can talk candidly with each other (siblings and friends) and not have the adults be ever mindful.

Its absolutely imperative that if we want to raise our kids to be healthy, functioning adults that we start learning that their future is THEIR future, not ours. We need to consider OUR need to make them the best now and balance it with what’s in THEIR best interest in the future. We need to let them skin their knees, fail, talk to adults without us being there, do their own homework for better or worse. We, as parents, have must let our kids today figure things out on their own so they can be healthy, happy, functioning adults, not needy, helpless, overgrown children tomorrow.