Our First “Self-Sufficiency” Day

Marc and I have noticed that here in Kenya, children are very often left to themselves. Usually, this is by necessity, because work for daily bread (whether working in the fields and at home, or wage-earning work, when it is available) is typically so demanding that parents aren’t left with much choice. In America, we took things for granted, like having a vehicle to hop into and a supermarket a short trip away. Here, you walk. Sometimes far. We always chuckle when we ask Jane how far away a particular destination is. She often shrugs and says, “Not far.” But it could be several kilometers–“not far,” indeed! We don’t leave our children home alone, but a single mother with few resources (or mom at home with Dad at work) sometimes has little choice.

When Marc went to Nairobi with our 10 year-old son a couple of weeks ago, he came back more than once to the house where he was staying to find the three children (ages 9 and under) home alone. He remarked that they were very well-behaved: no bickering, faithful behaviors (for the most part), and younger children who respected the authority of their older siblings in the parents’ stead.

We agreed, this would probably not be the case if we left all of our children home alone. My 10 year-old noted, “Well, they probably didn’t bicker because they had no toys to fight over.” Good point. As well, I don’t think our children have had enough opportunity to prove themselves responsible in taking care of their own needs for any extended period of time. They’ve only been apart from both of us a handful of times (usually when we go out to dinner to celebrate a birthday or anniversary), and the longest has been for the weekend, when they stayed with some friends of ours. Although we teach and train them in all things vital to home management, and they generally know our routines and expectations, they certainly derive a level of comfort in having an adult to fall back on. Unfortunately, I was sure that if left to their own devices, there are some things that they take for granted that would fall through the cracks.

So, with Marc and our oldest (a take-charge kinda kid) off to Nairobi for a few days, I decided to call a “Self-Sufficiency Day” for the rest of our crew, with the 10 year-old in charge. I thought it would be a good exercise for all of them. We went over the expectations, and I even wrote them on the chalkboard for reference. Things like:

  • Do it God’s Way! Love and serve one another. Please God with your attitude and your behavior.
  • Keep yourselves clean (hair, faces, feet, teeth) and LOOK AROUND to see what needs to be picked up around the house.
  • Remember to change the baby’s diaper.
  • Big kids, supervise little kids even if you are doing something else. Little kids, respect the authority of your older brothers and sisters.

And so on. They knew they would be responsible for their school work as well as home management, child care, and meal preparation. I would be closed in my bedroom and only available to receive meals or to feed the baby. (I also came out a couple of times to hook up the laptop and charge it on the inverter, but I told them to pretend I wasn’t there.)

My ten year-old spent part of the day before planning out AM and PM jobs for all the children, as well as meals. I have to admit, his choices were a little starchy (mandazi and tea for breakfast, beef broth with rice for lunch, and pasta for supper along with fried bananas and honey for dessert); however, I’m not sure how much better I would have done. The only fruit in the house was bananas and tomatoes. What can I say? We need to go to market! (That’s tomorrow…)

The morning went very well. My ten year-old kept everyone on-track and motivated in a very encouraging way. My oldest daughters teamed up to care for  the littles and did a super job, even when multi-tasking  to do their school work. My seven year-old did an admirable job with the laundry. (The only thing I had to return to the wash pile was a pair of jeans that needed a lot more elbow grease than she could muster. Ahhh, those boys of mine!)

The afternoon left something to be desired. The in-charge ten year-old got caught up in reading a new Thornton W. Burgess book that I had downloaded on the Kindle and before he knew it, it was 4:00 and everyone had far over-shot their afternoon “Free Time.” I actually had to prod them to move on with their afternoon responsibilities (including finishing their school work), which was a bit disappointing. I wondered what would have happened if I had not intervened? I guess I didn’t want to find out! However, after the reminder, things slipped back into gear. Jobs got done, supper got started, and school assignments got wrapped up.

I had given my 10 year-old a budget for the day of 200 shillings (roughly the equivalent of $2 and change, which buys quite a bit here). That would cover any supplies that we unexpectedly ran short of (such as laundry soap) or he could use it for some limited food items that could be purchased at the little shop/restaurant across the street (mostly staples like flour, oil, etc.). He considered buying the favorite “mandazi” from the restaurant at 50 shillings per bag of ten (and we’d need at least two bags); however, he did the math and realized that making them was much cheaper (and the recipe made a lot more–about 50!), so he was excited to make them himself. He ended up spending 18 shillings for 6 beef cubes, which he used to make broth for the lunch time rice, and he got a bag of sugar for 65 shillings to replenish our supply. Also, he ordered a litre of milk for 35 shillings to have tea for the next day. All in all, a total of 118 shillings spent for the day. Not bad. I had to chuckle, though, when I overheard him preparing breakfast in front of an audience of little people saying, “It’s almost ready! This is just taking a little longer than I thought!”

I sat down for supper with the crew and asked for their reactions. Over all, everyone was pleased with the day, though they admitted it was hard work.  Since this was the kids’ first “solo” day, I had made some suggestions for AM and PM jobs, but I’m hoping that after some repeats of this type of training they will be on the lookout for what needs to be done and will need less direction. A good first stab at self-sufficiency. We’ll keep practicing. My 9 year-old daughter can’t wait for the day she’s “in charge.” She’s pretty sure she can handle it.


15 thoughts on “Our First “Self-Sufficiency” Day

  1. That is so wonderful. I love it when you share your observations, and then re-evaluate and take action in your own family! And then know that I am “observing” you and taking action here! At one point I wrote a “Christian homeschooling scope and sequence” to encourage other mothers to take their eyes of academics (non-crucial and secondary), and put their training focus back on Christ and Wisdom. This is an area I left out–why? Because it simply doesn’t come up here in America, much. I included similar things such as able to work independently, set priorities, complete needed tasks without being told, etc., but never put it as a point to assess how our children can function without the adult authority–to grow them in their own authority and prepare them to be wise adults.

    Thank you again for taking the time to share. I love how you did this with your children, and love how you described their efforts and decisions. Precious. Will be doing that here–such crucial training for the older ones, and so much safer for the little ones if they can obey their older siblings in addition to their parents (that authority is weak and sketchy around here–the 13yo is just as apt to whine at her younger brothers as she is to help, instruct, or encourage!)

  2. I am a single mom and I work part-time outside the home. My children 12 and 9, get left alone at least 2 times a week. Thus far, my oldest has become quite proficient at getting his sister and himself fed, and trying to do other things around the house along with school. I think it helps them realize what it takes to run a household, and how important each person is in the mix. Unfortunately, my daughter (9) just refuses to submit to her brother’s authority. If you have any suggestions for that, I would love to hear them. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  3. I have to tell you that I started teaching my son this when he was little. He is now 14 almost 15 and I can leave for the day and he can take care of himself. I began teaching him when he first learned to walk, about cleaning up after himself. By the time he was three, he could pick up his room well enough for me vacuum and not run over toys. When he was tall enough to see into a pot on the stove we began cooking. He was probably 7 (he is very tall) By the time he was 9 he could cook a complete meal and serve us dinner, clean the kitchen. We began with pre-school our school schedule. He goes straight to the the classroom to began his studies whether I am here or not. Being self- sufficient is an on-going lesson that should begin when they are young. I have no doubt that my son could take care of himself for an extended period if I was unable to run the home, including meal planning, laundry, cleaning, animals, etc. He is awesome son.

  4. What a wonderful way to prepare you children for life. Around here,everyone takes turns keeping the Kitchen clean.Who ever cooks,does not have to clean the kitchen. Rooms are to be keep clean and everyone helps with the laundry. This keeps the house pretty tidy. It takes time to teach your children life skills,but they will use them alot more than what they learn in school. Have a blessed day.I really enjoyed your post. Sharon

  5. I only have one daughter, almost 9. She likes to take care of Daddy when I go out. She prepares food, house cleans, entertains, laundry, dishes, etc. She can take over my role pretty well. We are still working on getting her to do schoolwork on her own, with my prodding. She has a chore pack, which she arranges the day before. When we go on errands, she maps out the places to go in order to save time and gas. Thanks for your post and ideas.

  6. Thank you so much for your insight! It is amazing how much we can learn from different ways of life and culture! I am going to try this self sufficiency challenge with my 4 and 6 year old boy and girl. In the end I think it will teach me many things that I do for them that they can do on their own!! It will be wonderful to empower them in knowing that they can do it, along with the idea that I do not have to do it for them!! It is important to think outside the box!! To God be the glory!

  7. We have been doing some of this. We have 7 (one more due any day/minute!). Laundry has been our biggest issue. One day My wife asked the kids how we could get it under control. They suggested doing their own laundry. Each child has a day and they do their laundry and bedding. My wife and I have ours and the two babies’ with help from our 3 year old. It has eased the stress level in the house and given them some confidence in their abilities. We also have the our 7 and 8 year old assigned breakfast and lunch res[respectively and they have risen to, and even exceeded our expectations. Our oldest is 14 next we have a 12, then 9,8,7, 3, 2 and one due soon. The three oldest do very well, but the 3 and 2 year old cause chaos when the olders are “put in charge”. This is an interesting challenge….I do wonder how they would do. I will be in Kitali in August. If we get a break, I would love to contact your family.


    Jeremy Wilson

  8. I LOVE this challenge!! What a great way to teach responsibility! During my last pregnancy I was bedridden for about five months…I could not even go upstairs to the children’s bedrooms. It was very difficult but during this time
    the children began to do their own laundry as well as clean their bathroom.
    It was awesome! I am sure that without the circumstances I would have continued to do those tasks for a few more years but upon realizing that they were capable, we never went back. As a result, my youngest (now 12) is quite self sufficient. The other day I was away helping a friend run a strawberry stand when our goat went into labor. Our son knew just what to do and all was well when I arrived home. I found a cup of ranch dressing beside of my snow peas in the garden where he had “picked lunch”! I enjoy your blog…my heart is in Africa and hope to visit Kenya one day. Be blessed!

  9. I did give my kids a “pre-test” in this area. I left the home for 3 hours, leaving the 13yo daughter in charge of the 7, 4, 2, and 7 month-old. I simply wanted to measure what they could do when put to the test, and see how I should structure the training (identify any weaknesses, encourage and praise any strengths). My basic instructions were, “When you are left in charge of the home, you need to take on full responsibility to care for the family and the home.” I also admonished the 7yo to obey the 13yo, and told the 7yo to also be responsible for the younger ones.” When I came back, they had focused quite a bit on chores–the kitchen was clean, the laundry was running, and the baby had been fed and changed, checklists had been made for things to do, and generally everything was in good shape and seemed about the same as when I am home with them. Then I realized I spent the majority of the past two years being very, very ill–I was hospitalized a lot, and in bed a lot. They had no choice but to be responsible and helpful, and I remember being thankful that God was giving my children the opportunity to learn things that I would otherwise probably not teach them if I were in good health–because I love managing and caring for my home and children! The reminder is good, and now that my health is improving, I will continue to make sure I give plenty of practice and exhortations in this area for all my children. The goal is that I should be able to leave them at home without any reminder at all–and they will be fully responsible. For that matter, this should be the case if I am in the shower, or out at the garden, or even on the phone. Responsiblity and maturity are such vital areas of training, and this scenario also give our children the chance to practice wisdom–the wisdom they are continually taught, but don’t often have to be accountable for on their own under the protection of their parent’s wings. My goal is for my children to identify when they need to take charge and be self-sufficient, and then carry it out. How often is the day running smoothly, then it falls apart because I take a phone call from my mother, or need to be otherwise diverted in attention? They should be able to keep it together and be responsible!

    But, I have been reminded that there is more to self-sufficiency than being self-sufficient in the home.

    While meditating on your post and training my children in this area, I am reminded of some teaching I gave my two older children several years ago when my now 18yo son and 13 yo daughter were 11 and 6. After hearing a sermon by S.M. Davis called, “What to Expect from a 12 Year Old,” I was struck by the point he made that when Jesus was 12, he was alone in the city for 3 days–completely self sufficient–able to obtain needed food and shelter, and obviously keep himself safe. So I did talk to my children about this, and asked them if they found themselves left somewhere away from home, without parents, would they be mature and responsible enough to care for themselves? What would they do? I related to them how once when I was 14 I was stranded in a large airport overnight when while flying alone to visit a relative, my connecting flight was canceled due to weather. I was completely insecure and overwhelmed, and would not have done well but for a lovely stranger who took me under her wing, let me stay in her hotel room, and helped me book a flight the next day (this was before cell phones and even phone cards!) I also told them of the story of Joseph and we discussed how Joseph handled things when he found himself alone, in a strange country. I told them to not only learn how to be self-sufficient, responsible, mature, and wise, but I also exhorted them to be prepared. Were they prepared to lose their parents suddenly or be faced with any other type of tragedy? What if they were stolen away from home, or our family was somehow otherwise separated–would they panic? Fret? Be terrified? Or would they trust God completely and remember He is their Father. It was tough teaching, but I need to make sure that in good season, that teaching is given to all my children. There was a big age gap between my oldest and the next, and then my second and the rest (my four littles all came quickly in a row)–so I had a season where the types of teaching changed–but am so thankful for the reminder.

    God bless! I so appreciate your encouragement.

    1. I want to make my children not only self-sufficient, but most importantly, “God-sufficient”–like Joseph.

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