Ack! I am failing my kids! Can I fix it?

I’m failing my kids. As parents, we try our best to mold our kids into confident and competent, resourceful and respectful, independent adults. That’s a big ask. There’s so much opportunity to get it right or screw it up.


Lately, I’ve been thinking about self-efficacy. As defined by psychologist Albert Bandura, self-efficacy is a personal judgment of how well or poorly a person is able to cope with a given situation based on the skills they have and the circumstances they face. Self-efficacy sets the foundation for success by building key characteristics we want to instill in our kids; confidence, resourcefulness, and independence. Thinking of this concept was prompted by my frustration with my kids for being lazy bums. 

How I am Failing

No, they aren’t truly lazy bums. They are good kids dedicated to getting good grades and being kind. But at 12,14, and 16 they should be far more engaged in family projects. I get fired up at times like last weekend when my husband was busting his butt in the yard and they were lounging about on their devices. Honestly, I blame myself and my husband more than the kids. Sure, I made a point of asking them to go outside to help their father. They agreed to do so “after this one thing…” While I gave a stern “just one,” I didn’t follow up. Nor did Alex, my husband, ask for help.  I’m not sure he even thought about it.

A large yellow landscape vehicle with front loader leveling the dirt in a field
A small dramatization of the scope of the author’s landscaping project.
Photo by Vasile Valcan on Unsplash

Reasons for Failing

We were under a tight deadline to get a massive project done in the yard. In preparing a foundation for a new shed, we needed to pull up and repurpose a huge amount of loose stone from an old seating area. Then the entire section needed to be leveled. Alex knew I couldn’t help. I’m not sure he even considered asking the kids. He is incredibly independent and dogged in getting projects like this done. So much so that he doesn’t want to waste time corralling and supervising  the kids. 

Rather than a waste of time, guiding the kids in helping out would have paid huge dividends towards building their self-efficacy. But was it Alex’s job or mine? Even though I couldn’t physically help out, I definitely could have taken on the supervisor role. But I didn’t. There’s no good reason. I just didn’t think of it. Instead, the kids lounged and learned nothing while Alex put in two 12 hour days of physical labor.

The author's husband lying on the ground too tired to coral and supervise the kids
The author’s husband desperately resting
his back.

A Recurring Pattern

Okay, so this happened one time. What’s the big deal? 

The problem is what happened last weekend is not isolated; it’s a pattern. There’s always a time crunch. It’s always easier to knock it out than to take the time to explain how to do things and guide the kids in new tasks. It’s never fun getting the kids to engage in these kinds of projects that are not about them directly. Perhaps this is what bugs me the most; their lack of drive to contribute.

Giving the Kids a Foundation

Alex and I are strong, capable, resourceful adults because of all those times in our youth when we were woken early and spent the day working in the yard, cleaning the house, or otherwise contributing. Kudos to our parents for pushing and guiding us. In contrast, we are failing to instill the same skills in our kids that are the foundation of our success today. I am failing my kids. 

And it doesn’t even have to be big projects. Too often, I grow weary of asking the kids to clean up after themselves, especially in the kitchen. I’ll break down and do a clean sweep of the piled up dishes, crumbs, and leftover packaging. What do they learn from that? They certainly don’t learn how to properly clean a dish, load a dishwasher, or wipe down a counter. Instead they learn that someone else will clean up their mess. Argh!

The author and her three kids standing outside a brown building
The author and her three kids.

There’s Still Time

I have been failing my kids in this way for too long. I fear it’s too late, but opportunity remains. First, Alex and I need to get on the same page. We need to align in our philosophy and agree to both focus on guiding the kids through these types of projects that will improve their self-efficacy. Then it’s time for a family meeting to level-set expectations and get commitments from each one of the kids. Finally, it’s about the follow through; our words have to match our actions. 

What do you think? Can you relate?

2 thoughts on “Ack! I am failing my kids! Can I fix it?”

  1. Yep!! I can relate! Same story in our house. My husband is better at pushing them than I am (ages 21, 18 and 9 now). Historically, I get slightly annoyed at their lack of participation (week after week) and make little asks that go unanswered…and then I explode demanding that they help! Thinking back on my childhood, I didn’t do too much work. My mom, as a child, had to do what she saw as an unfair amount of work so she took it easy on us. I cleaned the house for a party, took out the trash weekly and helped in the garden in summer. That is pretty much it. I turned out ok—pretty independent and self sufficient actually. But my mom always did more than she could handle and made herself sick. Finding that balance is tricky! Let me know when you figure it out. 😉

    1. Laurel, Thanks for sharing this! I know so many parents deal with this or simply feelings of failing. Yes, I would agree you turned out pretty good!:-)

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