Letting Kids Drive the Project

Projects take time and that’s especially the case when the kid wants to head the project.  It’s not just that the project will take longer because the kids want to "help", but also in the sense that the kid may actually want to ramrod the project when he or she becomes older.  That means that  you’ve got to make a concerted effort to stay with the project and push it ahead lest the kid – usually a teen in this situation – starts to lose interest or heart in the sometimes lengthy project.

Any guy with some experience understands that do-it-yourself projects can be lengthy and occasionally frustrating affairs.  Things go wrong or there’s a situation that requires an additional step (or more) that simply wasn’t foreseen and it can be frustrating.  But if the teen hasn’t done anything like this before, she’ll have to lean heavily upon you for advice, encouragement and drive.  And if you don’t or can’t provide the time that’s necessary to make it happen, then there’s a fair possibility that the project will fail.

Eldest and I have a significant project that’s in danger of failing now and as much as I hate to admit it, a significant part of any responsibility for failure will rest with me.  In 2007, we purchased a house – a logistical move, not a "gee, we gotta have this house" move – and the kids noted when we first went through it that there was a DIY fish pond right next to the deck.  The kids’ response was "Daddy, it’s got a pond!" and my unspoken response was "Oh S*&^, it’s got a pond."  The pond survived decently until last summer (2009) when we encountered a full fish die-off and algae explosion.  The liner then proceeded to hole, meaning that the problem was now structural.  My thought was that this was the perfect opportunity to fill it in and lay out a small patio with fire pit while Eldest argued forcefully for another pond and with her younger siblings pushing the issue, my wife and I relented.  My caveat was that this would be a project that we did ourselves and that Eldest would be responsible for the redesign plans and cost estimates.  To her credit, she did these and actually did them well.

The problem was that we started in late July and proceeded to encounter technical problems, like when the dirt side of the pond wall collapsed in a major rain storm.  This led to a lengthy side project involving a wire and stone retaining wall that now undergirds the newly replaced liner.  The upshot was that the season ended before we could finish with the waterfall segment, which is where we came to understand the previous owner’s Rube Goldberg approach to things.

We’re now in another summer and the pond’s waterfall is as yet unfinished.  Eldest has agreed with her mother that it would instead be really cool to have a pondless waterfall and her interest in finishing the other has flagged considerably.  My stance now is that we’ll take another crack at the waterfall and if that doesn’t work, then we’ll seriously consider the pondless waterfall option.  With the proviso that we again do the project ourselves since I don’t want to spend hard money on something as frivolous as that.

So what do I take from this exercise on the eve of the last crack on the fishpond?

  • I was unrealistic to believe that a teen would have the ability to drive through a long-term project without greater support and drive from me.
  • I still want to do projects like this on a DIY basis in order for the kids to see that you don’t have to constantly hire people to do things for you (which is why I refuse to pay someone to do my lawn since I have child labor).
  • I have to be willing to commit the time to make this happen much more quickly than it did so that it doesn’t lose steam.

So that’s one more additional item on the to-do list, along with the relandscaping of the backyard, another gift of the previous owner.



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