Responsibility involves many things, but virtue is the most important. We want children to grow into adults. They want to grow into adults.
I was doing a counting bear math activity with my 3 year old and her best bud, another 3 year old, Levi. He started setting up the bears in 2 lines facing each other. I said, “What are you doing, Bud?” He told me “The bears are preparing for battle.” I said that we have one more counting game to play before they can battle. He looks at me and says, “Men don’t play. Men fight.”
I am not raising children, I am raising adults. We want them to be fully functioning, mentally healthy, independent citizens. But we all know adults that are well functioning in an adult world, and are very intelligent and well educated, but are also selfish, cruel, and greedy or lazy.
C.S. Lewis has some wisdom for us: “Aim at a well-formed soul and you will get academic growth ‘thrown in’; aim at academic growth and you will get neither.” We emphasize school achievement so much in the average American home. We act like it is a savior. We confuse getting good grades with doing well spiritually. Ask your friend how her son is doing, and chances are she will answer, “Great! He is doing well in school.” Spiritual maturity and academic achievement are not the same thing!
Every book we read with them, every activity we enroll them in, every movie they watch, every conversation they have with another kid, every minute they spend on an iPad or social media, every hour they engage with you, forms their soul for good or evil, in one way or another. They need to know that worthwhile things are often difficult.
Another major place where children learn responsibility is in household chores. Colossians 3:23-24 informs us, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” When you work alongside your child, you not only train them to do the work correctly, you train them in the attitude they should have about work. I give my kids “try agains” on attitudes, words, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Sometimes they have to walk out of the room and walk back in several times until they are respectful.
Once they have the chore down pat, keep checking in on them. Brooke Wayne, mom of 10, advises us to keep things simple at home to reduce stress, learn to manage the children more, and do less of the work yourself as they get older. They are getting prepared for life, and you are spending more time mothering and less housekeeping. They should have increasing responsibilities with increasing age and maturity.
A huge aspect of teaching responsibility nowadays is teaching responsibility with technology. Josh Gibbs says that our lives are so dependent on screens that “if we don’t have a screen strategy, we don’t have a life strategy”. Set boundaries and then lead by example. In an NPR interview, Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ph. D., revealed that when our children interrupt us on a smartphone we are more irritable with them than when we are interrupted at other tasks.
These mini-moments of disconnect with our children are deeply felt. If you have the guts, ask your kids how they feel about your cellphone. And remember, parenting is a long-term project. You are investing in your children for the long haul, and you will not be able to measure “success” in the ways you are used to measuring it in the rest of life. Time spent on your knees in prayer and humbly asking for God’s help will be the most productive time in your parenting life.
This article was published in MOMs Magazine in January 2020.
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