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Teach me

My youngest kid was up very early this morning, coming downstairs while I was still meditating. “Dad,” he said, poking his head through the doorway, “can you make me some scrambled eggs?” I told him that he was perfectly capable of doing it himself, but he insisted that he didn’t know how. “You never taught me,” he said. “So how could I know?”

Now, I was almost sure that I’d shown him how to cook scrambled eggs before, but it was possible, given that I have two older children, that I could have been remembering another occasion with an other child. So off we went to the kitchen. Under my instruction, he got a pan, put it on the stove, turned on the burner, put some butter in the pan, cracked a few eggs, whisked them with some salt and pepper, and then cooked them.

We had a good little chat while we cooked, and I also had some time to reflect on how this was maybe a part of being the youngest child in a family with a few kids. The older kids get lots of instruction on how to do things, but by the time the younger ones come around, we unconsciously assume that we’ve covered that stuff, or that they’ll pick it up from us organically (which they sometimes do), or that they’ll learn it from their older siblings (which sometimes happens also). In one way or another, we don’t spend as much time actively teaching them.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it isn’t necessarily to say that they don’t pick up those lessons in other ways from other people, but it was curious for me to realize how much less time I’ve spent specifically teaching my youngest how to do things than I’ve spent with his older brothers. And it made me wonder how that changes the dynamic between parent and child.

Is it possible, for example, that part of what makes youngest children often more dependent on their parents is the fact that they aren’t taught to do as much. Maybe, by the time the last child comes around, we parents are less interested in teaching those lessons (how to cook a meal or do the laundry or plant a garden) one last time. Maybe we’re more willing just to do it ourselves so the job gets done with less hassle.

Maybe too the older kids are already able to do some of those things, so the opportunities never trickle down to the younger ones. It’s entirely possible, in a house of three adults who cook regularly, a teenager who intends to be a chef, and a pre-teen who loves to cook his own meals so long as he never has to clean up the disaster, the youngest just never had a chance to make eggs. There was always somebody to do it for him.

Whatever the reason, I think that in some ways he’s been missing out on something important. I don’t just mean that he isn’t learning a particular skill (because I’m sure he’d figure out how to scramble eggs eventually). And I don’t just mean that he isn’t learning to be independent (although this is a big problem for lots of kids who have too much done for them). I mean more that he isn’t learning how to be mentored, how to learn from people in an organic, one-on-one kind of way.

And this is a far different skill than learning in school. It’s one thing to be able to sit in a class, take in information, and then regurgitate it in the ways that will get good marks. It’s another thing entirely to work with someone more experienced, to learn by imitation and practical application in the context of a mentoring relationship. It’s a good skill to have.

So, I think I need to keep my eye open for those kinds of opportunities to teach him in that way. Rather than just assuming that he’s figured it out along the way, I need to be more actively mentoring him in the everyday tasks of life, giving him the opportunity to discover a new way to learn.