The remedy? As our children grow, we too must grow—grow in our ability to let them shoulder the responsibilities that belong to them, handing over the reins bit by intentional bit. As we do this, helping them learn the mechanics of wise decision making and allowing them to experience the law of sowing and reaping, reality has a way of teaching lasting life lessons to our kids.

CONSEQUENCES

Parents must look to the future—the bigger picture, if you will. "God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." This is not a threat. This is a principle that has marvelous potential to transform immature, selfish children into mature young adults that look before they leap. Unfortunately, so many of us parents, having reaped what we sowed in a moment of youthful self-indulgence, have a tendency to step in and short-circuit the process in our children's lives in order to keep them from doing the same.

That's bad. If we prevent our children from experiencing the natural consequences of their decisions, they have no reason to choose differently next time. For example, if you forget to haul firewood up to the deck in the daylight and you have to go out in the cold and dark to get it, chances are, you'll remember next time. But if Mommy continually reminds you (essentially she is carrying the responsibility for getting the wood in, rather than leaving it on your shoulders), or Daddy takes pity on you and does it for you when he comes home from work, or says, "We'll just run the furnace tonight," what do you learn? That it doesn't really matter—someone will bail you out.

Parents, we've got to get this deep into our fiber—we bail, they fail. The more we interrupt God's process, the more we set our children up for pain. Going out to haul wood in the dark while everyone else is in by the fire may not be fun. But the pain doesn't hold a candle to what your son would feel when he gets fired for not being responsible, or your daughter might experience when she overdraws her account one too many times and is added to the "bad checks" list at the local grocery store.

Don't get me wrong. We shouldn't just thrust our children into the world of responsibility and decision-making without guidance or instruction. And our kids shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel every time they're confronted with a decision. They can learn from mistakes we've made in our own past, and they can avoid those mistakes if they choose wisely and learn by our experience instead of having to learn from their own. Serving as guides and mentors is part of our role as parents. But at the same time, we have to be careful not to shield our children from the consequences of their decisions. If they've made a bad choice, they should typically bear their own consequences.

Consider this analogy from the baseball world. In former years, baseball pitchers would often pitch the entire nine innings. If they let some runs get by, they had to learn how to pull themselves out of the hole and pitch a winning game. Nowadays, if a starting pitcher is having a bad day or lets too many batters get on base, he is pulled and a new pitcher is sent in. This might happen three or four times in a game. The result? Not too many pitchers have the opportunity to deal with the consequences of their actions, so they never become the pitchers they could be. Someone else is always on hand to mop up after them and (hopefully) redeem the game.

Not too big of a deal in the world of sports, but huge in our children's lives. If parents step in to ensure that whatever mistakes are made don't become a mess, they are in danger of producing a young adult who lacks the ability to take whatever is at hand and use it to climb out of the hole. In short, they are in danger of turning out someone who looks to others to bail them out instead of shouldering the consequences of their own conduct, and worse, who feels entitled to a free ride through life.

Is that really what we want for these children of ours? Of course not! So how can we help them? Let them reap what they sow in the safe environment of home. In the phrase of yesteryear, "Let their chickens come home to roost." Don't step in and soften the consequences. Instead, cooperate and at times augment the natural process so that the message comes through loud and clear.