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  • Matthew Gallagher

It’s not their trash

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

Most graduates can describe a disparity between academic knowledge and practical experience. With work experience we reflect on the realization of what is required in one job or another and the limitations of simulations or lessons learned in the classroom. Students express realizations of abstract lessons brought to life by their own experiences (“oh that’s what you meant”). This limitation is also common in parenting because really it’s not their trash, even if they made it.

Parents try to teach their children lessons of responsibility by giving them chores or tasks they expect the child to internalize as part of their every day duties. Parents also express frustration having to remind their children of tasks stating “how many times do I have to tell you?” That’s more a statement of frustration rather than a real question because the most honest answer sounds flippant: “A thousand times. Until I move out.” Interactions like these often lead to regret in parents who don’t want to “nag” or escalate into conflict with a strong-willed oppositional child. Unless your child’s personality is predisposed to a strong sense of order (the kid who “loves to clean”) you will be interrupting some sort of play or leisure.

It’s not really their trash because it’s not their house, it’s the parents’ house. For the majority of a child's life the parents have taken care of them and been ultimately responsible for them. “Growing up” is our label for the gradual transition to individual responsibility, a process that reflects the context of the moment. Some children have to grow up too fast in a crisis and others struggle to launch in early adulthood when the home is too comfortable. As parents we can trust that our children will eventually learn responsibility when they have to, often through difficult lessons that are uncomfortable. We can take comfort that our chore lists and instruction have made them familiar with the process, but they probably might not understand it until it’s their trash in their own space.

Matthew Gallagher, LCPC


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