As a mother, one of the hardest things to figure out is the right balance between tender and firm. I raise my kids from young ages to think and decide things for themselves. From the time they were about 3 years old, I’ve given them age-appropriate authority over certain things to prepare them for being responsible for themselves. My kids are now 5, 8 (or will be tomorrow anyway — whoo hoo!), 10, almost 12 (the only boy) and 13 and they all have a solid understanding of what they are responsible for verses what I am responsible for regarding them and they know they are personally accountable when they fail to follow through on what is expected of them.
They know I am not doing their chores. They know if they don’t do their chores, their lives will become extremely dull and boring very quickly. Do they always do what is expected of them? No. Do they always KNOW what is expected of them? Yes. As such, I also institute age-appropriate consequences for those times when they decide they aren’t interested in following through with their responsibilities. I do not want them growing up unaccustomed to responsibility nor will I raise them to think that nothing will happen if they shirk things they are responsible for.
My kids — even my 5 year old — are all expected to do certain things on a daily basis — to select and lay out their school clothes, make sure their chores and homework are done before bed and make sure that their papers and agenda books are signed for school. I know many parents check their younger kids’ folders when they come in. I do not. The first few days of school, I give them a reminder that their papers need to be presented to me and after about the second week of school, they are expected to be on automatic pilot.
The kids come in from the bus and I say, “Homework and chores!” That is the extent of my urging. At that point, they’ve been told and are expected to get it done. Now, they don’t always do everything perfectly and there are days when my 8 year old will come running in here at the last second needing me to sign her agenda on Monday morning as the bus is rolling up, but they learn lessons on those days because I don’t sign paperwork at 8:20am. Not because I can’t, but because I won’t. Sometimes that makes me appear to their teachers as a parent who isn’t attentive and I’m okay with that because I know my reasoning and as long as my children learn the lesson, what someone else’s impression of me might be is not my concern… and over the course of the school year, their teachers realize how involved I am anyway.
They don’t learn responsibility by me allowing them to be irresponsible. How do you teach a child not to wait until the last minute to do things? By not allowing them to get away with it. If I tell you that you need to get your papers signed when you get HOME and NEVER in the morning during the hustle and bustle when I’m trying to get 5 kids out the door to 2 different schools, then it is up to me to make sure that I don’t let it happen. The first few times, I may let it slide with some fussing but after a certain point, the consequences have to be adjusted and that means that you go to school without your things signed so that you deal with consequences from that teacher. Sometimes you have to let your child experience the discomforts that result from irresponsibility and carelessness if you want them to learn to be responsible and careful.
My children are all mostly very self-sufficient. I think the best thing you can do for a child is to start them out early in life teaching them to be accountable for themselves and giving them a strong foundation in managing their time and ensuring that they finish what they HAVE to do before they waste time on what they WANT to do. It teaches them to be SELF disciplined, which is a trait that will be a great asset to them in life. Each child is different but I manage responsibility the same way I did breastfeeding — I let my kids be involved in the process and I gently manipulated the timeline of that shift in dependency based on each of their particular needs, personalities, etc. They all self-weaned then and they have always gradually “weaned” away from being dependent on me for other things in much the same manner.
I supervise. I guide. I stay informed. But I do not get involved when it’s not necessary. Sometimes I see them about to fall on their faces and I step in to help things move in a more productive direction; other times, I see them about to fall on their faces and I simply let them fall. As a parent, that is hard to do but I can only help my kids so many times until they start expecting me to always be there to help. I don’t want them to need that assurance from me so I don’t give them the consistent message that I’m going to rescue them at the last minute. Now, my kids know I will ALWAYS be there to help pick them up and I will ALWAYS be there if they need to ask for help balancing along the way, but it’s primarily up to them to do what’s necessary to make sure they don’t fall. I want them to continually grow and learn how to live life and not always need me to hold their hands.
They have been raised with stability, instruction and a good example and as such, if they fail later in life they will not have me to blame. I raise my children to work for and EARN what they receive — they are never to expect anything or to feel like I owe them even so much as a privilege that they haven’t earned the right to. I encourage them to be active, to eat healthy and to be conscious of the decisions they make regarding their bodies. I show them by example how to BE disappointed as well as how to move on after disappointment. My kids have more than I had, but nothing is just handed to them. They wait. We plan. They know what, “NO!” means and they aren’t always thrilled with the decisions that we make as parents but they know that our decisions are final whether they like or agree with them.
They may think that we’re crazy since most of their peers are not raised that way, but as a result of the way we raise them, they will grow into adults who are highly capable and equipped with all the characteristics they need to be successful. They will have those qualities BECAUSE I refused to hand-hold them in every situation through their childhoods. I let my kids have their failures because it helps make them stronger and more independent — it helps them develop the skills required to work through and solve problems and makes them more confident in being leaders and not NEEDING direction from another person in order to make a choice.
I do not rush to my kids’ defense when they get into trouble outside my care — it’s part of learning the different dynamics of authority they’ll experience throughout their lives. I used to tell people, “I will never tell you what my kids won’t do, but I can tell you what they won’t do twice!” Kids make mistakes and they do things wrong — even things you’ve told them specifically not to do. How you handle those situations determines what your child will take away from the experience — will they think they can get away with things because there were little to no consequences or will they know that honesty and accountability are the best policies? I make them own up to things they’ve done wrong. They learn to apologize and to be humble and respectful.
Our job is to PREPARE them to be self-reliant… not to handicap them by constantly being at their beck and call, defending and excusing their wrongs or always giving them everything they want even when they don’t deserve it. Sure, you can do everything for your child but that doesn’t necessarily make you a good parent — just a very busy one. And sure, they may think you’re the best parent in the world because of how you cater to them but your child giving you kudos doesn’t necessarily make you a good parent either — just a very popular one. And in the end, while everything may get done, your child will never learn to do things for themselves, accept responsibility for their own actions or how to function in the world without you.
Don’t parent easy. Parent right. Love them hard… support them relentlessly… provide their needs… teach them the value of appreciation by making them earn what they want. Say *no* when it’s necessary. Say *yes* when it is deserved. Let them experience disappointment. Uplift them. Don’t just pray for them. Pray with them. Don’t just pray with them — teach them to pray on their own.
The kids back in 2008 praying before school
(Talia was almost 6, Tre was 7 and Bri was 8):
Kids have enough friends — parents should be okay with feeling like the enemy at times. Your kid will think they hate you some days, and that’s okay. They don’t. I tell mine all the time that they may be mad at me today, but they will thank me when they are older and mature enough to understand my decisions — and I’m okay with that. I’ll wait for them to thank me later. Today, they can be mad.
That is what parenting is. Making hard decisions even when you want your child to “like” you. My children know they don’t have to like even half of the decisions I make on their behalf — but they have to obey and abide by them. Don’t be the popular parent. Be the good parent.