Before she became a stay-at-home mom, Kay Wills Wyma earned her MBA, worked in international finance and was even employed at the White House. So it’s not entirely surprising that the astute businesswoman was quick to discover in her latest venture – managing her family – a startling series of concerns.
Recognizing in her five children the budding seeds of entitlement, as well as observing an alarming lack of independence, Wyma realized that until that point, she and her husband, Jon, had not only overlooked the issue – they’d unwittingly enabled their children to become complacent and unequipped to enter adulthood.
In response, Wyma undertook to give her family unit a complete overhaul, documenting the experience in a book titled, “Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement.”
The author will be in Louisville for a special parenting seminar hosted by Kentucky Country Day School on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. KCD Director of Communications Jeff Topham is counting on the presentation, an annual KCD event, to help inspire meaningful dialogue among parents.
“I hope that it will get parents to start talking with each other about some of the issues that the speaker raises. Just share ideas that have worked, and their own approach to parenting, and to look to other parents as resources,” he explained. “I really hope that this starts a conversation.”
The seminar, which will be held at the KCD Theater, 4100 Springdale Road, is free and open to the public. I recently caught up with Ms. Wyma to learn more about her family’s journey.
How did you come up with the idea for “Cleaning House”?
Well, it really started with just a frustrated mother, and … when Mom gets mad, watch out – things might change. It was just one dish too many left out when I walked in from a carpool ride, and every bed unmade. And that particular carpool experience, one of my kids opined out loud that he might look good in one of the cars that was driving beside us, when he turned 16. Those cars, one was a Porsche, one was a Maserati and one was a Lexus, and I was looking at him thinking, “how in the world are you ever going to drive a car like that?” knowing full well that his main activity involved a screen and a remote control.
I sat there, going, what am I doing? … Am I just grooming them to look to people to serve them, rather than teaching them how to do all these things so they can be independent and really go do it all themselves? I was just mad, really. So I just started to put everything on their plates.
What are some common mistakes that parents make?
I think parents really are doing their best. I’m not sure it’s as much “mistakes” as it is buying into the societal trends that we have to race ahead and do things for them. And I think … if we sat back and thought about it, it’s a lot of parental peer pressure, because it’s incredibly competitive. It starts from the get-go, you know. Parents are comparing when their babies crawl, or when did they walk, what play group are they in, what soccer team are they on by the time they’re three years old.
There’s also been a trend – a major trend since the 1940s – to set your child as the center of the family, a child-centric family, (with) parenting based on self-esteem. And it really started in the 1940s when Dr. Benjamin Spock wrote a book that became crazily popular. He sold over 50 million copies of the book that proposed that self esteem is really what works best for a child … self esteem along the lines of, “You’re wonderful, people love you.” And I think a lot of it is that that has been cooked into society now.
People call this generation – the gen-Ys – the “trophy generation,” because they’ve been given all the trophies, the medals and all these kinds of things without having a lot to back them up. … It’s so well-intentioned, and yet the effects of it are debilitating. You have studies out now that are stating that we’re raising generations of narcissists. And that’s where it (is frightening), because narcissism goes so far beyond self-absorption. That’s a clinical term that someone can’t think of anything besides themselves. … So it’s a road that’s been paved with the best and most loving intentions – it’s just that the message I think that we’ve been hearing is not necessarily the right message.
How can parents know how much responsibility to give their children?
I do think that children, just like all of us, thrive on high expectations. And I’ve noticed (this) with mine. Let’s say we’re in the kitchen and I have my 5-year-old, who would like to cut the vegetables for the evening. I could be sitting there thinking, “Oh my gosh, it’s a knife – he could hurt himself,” or I could stand there and train him how, and safety when using a knife. Do it age-appropriate, but set those things up that really challenge them. I think we’re afraid to let our kids fall (but) the truth is, when they fall, they learn to get up and do it again, especially if you’re expecting a lot from them.
The most amazing thing is when they do something they didn’t think they could do. Like when my 8-year-old cooked dinner for the entire family, which is loaded with so many great things, like serving others. Like setting a meal in front of arguably the greatest critics in the world, really – your family. … I can’t tell you how confidence infusing that is. I watched that kid sit at the table more proud than I’ve ever seen him, and looking for the next thing to do that he never thought he could do. And that’s what floored me along the way – it takes mountains that they really see as obstacles and turns them into opportunities.
It’s equipping them to do all these amazing things that they can do, very genuinely. And then they aren’t searching when they get out of school and they hit life, (where) you start at the bottom. You don’t start as boss, you really start making copies. And that’s hard to embrace if you’ve really bought hook, line and sinker into the idea that you’re better than everybody else.
Have you encountered any criticism of your parenting style?
I have. Part of it is that I do come at it from a faith perspective, because I really think that so much of this is God’s principles that play out. I guess I’m open with that and that’s offensive to some people.
The other thing that’s been offensive has been what we did to inspire. We did provide financial incentive, and I think that people are offended at the thought of paying a kid to do what they should be doing, like making their bed and cleaning up after themselves. And I totally get that. (But) parenting isn’t a perfect process. I will tell you that we started and we stopped. … We totally messed up, and so we backed up and started again. In our house, we saw some interesting things come from the financial incentive.
When we did that, I took away me buying them things. Not only did they want things less because they had to pay with their own money, I watched them learn economic lessons. … I watched my 8-year-old shop Crayola Magic at Michael’s to make sure he was getting the best deal, even talking to the sales clerk, which I’m not sure he ever would have done before.
What has your family gained from this experience?
I’ll tell you, its not something we’ve completed and are done with. The whining hasn’t stopped, and they still push back. They’re kids, and no mom is perfect.
I will tell you though, it has given them a sense of well-being, it has given them a sense of belonging, it’s heightened their awareness of others, and serving, which to me is sort of the secret path to happiness. People are most happy when they’re not focused on themselves. And if somehow they get out of my house knowing there’s a world around them, and a lot of people that are worth paying attention to, that’s a good thing.
Wyma’s book, “Cleaning House,” will be available for purchase at the Feb. 5 presentation at Kentucky Country Day School, and can also be found at Barnes & Noble, on Amazon.com and at most Christian bookstores. You can follow Wyma on her blog at www.TheMoatBlog.com.