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What building a gingerbread house with my children taught me about my need to control…

By Brandy Browne

Ahhh, building a gingerbread house with your children. Time honored tradition, am I right? Only, stop and think for a minute about how it REALLY goes down. The pieces do not lock together right, you snap at the kids for eating the candy meant for the house, and watching them haphazardly place candy on the house all willy nilly is enough to give me an anxiety attack. My children recently joined 4H, and their first “project” was a gingerbread house competition. Sounds like fun, right? Well, it wasn’t…and then, it was. 

Things have been crazy at our house lately with illnesses, school craziness, etc. I decided to use this activity as bonding time with my children. This time, I would be prepared. I had several different kinds of icing and candy so we could experiment with what worked well. Well, to begin with, we did not need all the extra icing because nothing except the icing that came in the kits would lock those puppies together, and that was with a LOT of trial and error and frustration. My husband was laughing hysterically at me. We start therapy next week…okay, I’m kidding on that one, but I really was frustrated. Ha! 

After finally getting my youngest’s house locked in, I began the task of picking out candy to go on the house. She looked at me, quizzically, and asked, “Mom, what are you doing?” I respond, quickly, with “Oh, honey, Mommy is helping you!” Fire danced in her beautiful blue eyes, her jaw set, and her long blonde curls took on a life of their own, as she told me, rather emphatically, “But Mommy, I don’t want your help! I am a big girl…I can do it myself!” I backed off, mentally taking stock of some candy to set aside to “fix” it with later. She carefully laced the icing and methodically placed each candy one at a time. It was beautiful. Obviously, she could indeed do it herself. The gingerbread house was the perfect place to put her little stamp of growing independence.  

So, what did I learn? It is HARD to sit back and let your kids do things themselves. Maybe you have a vision of sugarplum covered gingerbread houses. Maybe you have opinions on how your child should dress every day, so you pick out their clothes in the evenings for the next day. Maybe you “help” just a little too much on their projects. The thing is, we aren’t doing them any favors by doing this. The best thing we can do for our children is not teach them what to think, but rather to teach them how to be problem solvers. This is how we build resilient children…

Our goal for our children is for them to ultimately become self sufficient, independent young people that will succeed whether we are there or not. They can’t do this if we never let them tackle adventures independently. What is the worst that could happen? Their gingerbread house will look different than what you had in mind? Your fashionista in training daughter will pair polka dots with stripes? The project won’t turn out Pinterest worthy? These things will likely happen, and your children will develop independence and drive along the way to discovering their own little person. Let them be. They’ll figure things out.

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