Something really struck me the other day as we piled out of our car to enjoy a day of ice-skating at the local rink. As I lugged Audrey and Nicholas’ skates through the ice and snow, I couldn’t help but notice that our daughter’s best friend was doing something unfamiliar to our own two kids-she was carrying her own stuff.

Now granted, she was our guest and had to come prepared, but it just impressed me to no end how responsible she was for her things while our kids simply bolted out of the car and went to play in the snow, empty handed, knowing that everything would be taken care of.

It really got me to thinking, are we doing our children any favors by attending to their every need, hand over fist? The answer, to me at least, is pretty clear: no way!

And it begs the question, whose needs are we really addressing when, rather than placing the responsibility in their own hands, we do it for them? Even though it may seem obvious, the answer is not as simple and straightforward as you might think, because the truth of the matter is, life is much simpler when mom or dad just takes care of business and lets the children, well, be children.

I realize how crazy this may sound. After all, how could I possibly say that giving yourself more work would make your life simpler? Well, it does when you really get down to it, because not only as adults are we better at doing many of these tasks (we have a lot more experience), thus streamlining the process, but doing it ourselves ensures that our extremely high parental standards are met the first time around.

Parents are also quicker and more efficient, which is an imperative when we are pressed for time. Consequently, we don’t have to go through the rigmarole of having to explaining your expectations, overseeing the job, and then evaluating the quality of the work. Just do it yourself, and it’s done, in one fell swoop. It sure sounds simpler, doesn’t it?

But what is the downside of this approach? What are the consequences for our children, and by extension, for ourselves?

Well, for starters, they can make it more of a challenge for our kids to deal with simple issues that arise throughout their day, ones that simply require a little common sense that comes from experience. So rather than simply cleaning up their spilled milk, they either stare at it, dumbfounded, or call out for help.

Unfortunately, this often occurs at a time when mom or dad is intolerably busy, and after we’ve put our lives on hold to attend the matter at hand, we may find ourselves wondering (either to ourselves or out loud) why the heck they didn’t simply clean it up themselves. The answer, of course, is right before our eyes.

I’ve also found that when you pamper your kids, it’s not unheard for them to take things for granted. So rather show an appreciation for their new clothes or toys, they leave them lying on the floor for mom and dad to pick up, or even worse, lose them and blame you for it. There’s no accountability, and why should there be? They know things will be taken care of.

And, of course, there is the occasional air of royalty, whereby the children will call out for their servants (i.e., you and I) to attend to their needs, like refilling their cup of water or getting them a tissue, rather than simply doing it themselves. It is instructive to keep in mind that this does not always go over well when grandmom and granddad are visiting.

But perhaps the most important consideration is for the children themselves. It’s a rough world out there, and it is vitally important for them to learn to be responsible, because responsibility will lead to independence, and as much as some of us don’t want to face up to it, there will come a day when we will not be there to hold our children’s hand, and for that matter, they won’t want us there. It is our job to teach them to stand on their own two feet.

The beauty is, it doesn’t take much, and I’ve found a few simple changes can make a world of difference not only in your kid’s attitude, but in the amount of work that falls in your lap. So the next time you have the urge to clean up after your kids or refill their cups because it’s just easier, try to keep a few things in mind.

• Be consistent, and adhere to your program. Don’t give in to your instinctual need to jump in and do it yourself, because while this may simplify things at first, it sends a mixed message that will compromise your credibility when you really need for them to do it themselves.

• Set aside more time knowing that  engaging your children does not maximize efficiency. Waiting for kids to get dressed can be like watching paint dry, but when you are pressed for time, it is simply not an option.

• Make it easier for them. This will allow you to be involved without being overbearing. Ruth and I set things up for Audrey and Nicholas, like leaving a small pitcher of water at the table for them to refill their own glasses, or laying out the cereal and milk in the morning whereby they can help themselves. Then they can at least have the illusion they are doing it themselves, which will do wonders for their confidence.

• I know it’s cliché, but always keep in mind the difference between being a parent and a friend. Loving your kids means sometimes doing things that will make you seriously unpopular, but as a parent, you have to stand your ground and accept the decline in your popularity.

Mind you, it’s not easy, but it’s the first step towards instilling them with the wherewithal to be responsible young adults. Besides, I’ve found that most kids really want to do things by themselves, and nothing helps build their sense of confidence and independence more than accomplishment.

Furthermore, it will help them develop their sense of appreciation and teach them the value of hard work, rather than the expectation that everything will simply be handed to them.

And, of course, it forces us, the uptight parents, to lighten up and let things evolve as they may. That’s not to say that you should let them handle your heirloom china or play with fire, but with everyday things that are not as precious, let the cards fall as they may. Learning from your mistakes is an important part of growing up, and they go a long way towards making everyone’s life more gratifying.

Isn’t that what life is all about?