Navigating Through Life
- Friday, September 21, 2007
Decisions. Responsibilities. Life is full of both. Should I have that second cup of coffee? Should we limp by with a semi-functioning appliance, or bite the bullet to replace it? Maybe it's time to get out of bed if I'm going to get anything done today. In fact, responsibilities are always with us, and decisions are so much a part of everyday life that, except for the ones that make us pause a moment, we make them almost subconsciously. But have you ever noticed that some people seem better equipped in these areas than others? Not only do they seem to choose wisely the majority of the time, they are, well—decisive! And they can handle responsibility without buckling under the strain.
Were they just born that way?
Maybe. Personality does seem to play a part in the way people make decisions and do their duty. But in another way, like reading, writing, or arithmetic, these things are learned. In math, we start by memorizing the numbers, then we learn that one plus one equals two. Someone taught us that, just like they taught us to read and to shape our letters. As homeschooling parents, we have that privilege with our own kids, and we work hard at it.
But have we been as intentional in teaching our children how to make decisions and carry their own responsibilities? I have to be among the first to confess that I have not exactly been a pace-setter in this realm. After all, it's a whole lot easier to be the hub of the wheel, directing my kids' thoughts, actions, and time, than to systematically, deliberately, and continuously put them in the position of needing to make decisions for themselves and bear their own responsibility for the hundred and one issues they encounter in the course of their day. The temptation is to make all the calls, thereby functioning as a living memo pad to remind them of their duties and point out what they should be doing. (Okay, I admit it: It also makes my job of running the house easier).
SAVING THEM FROM THEMSELVES?
I suppose there are parents out there who try to ruin their kids' lives—who, with malice aforethought, actually do all they can to make their children miserable. But those would be the exceptions. As a whole, we parents try really hard to raise our children in such a way as to ensure future happiness, if that were possible.
In fact, sometimes as parents—dedicated, sincere, homeschooling parents—we try so hard and are so focused on preventing any mistakes that we can end up making all the important decisions and most unimportant ones as well. Like an earnest two-year-old strangling a kitten while intending only to keep it from falling out of his lap, we're in danger of slowly squeezing the life out of our kids. The motive is good. The results are not.
We love our kids so much, we want to save them from making big mistakes. Choices are fraught with risk, so we rule out those possibilities by making all the decisions ourselves. Instead of teaching them from babyhood how to make wise choices and to take responsibility, we reserve that decision-making power unto ourselves so they won't ruin their lives. We don't involve them in these choices. We tell them which way to go and what things to do, steering them down those paths we feel are right.
In fact, it is much easier if they don't do any independent thinking at all. We take the responsibility for seeing what they need to do and telling them to do it. They just need to learn to obey.
Well, obedience is wonderful. Godly. Essential. But we're not raising dogs here. We're raising potential adults, and we've got to keep that end in view, even when they are just toddling through life. Regulating every move works okay when kids are small. In fact, they need a fair amount of that. Give your two-year-old too many choices—what to eat, what to wear, etc—and you're grooming a little dictator. But the level of parental control appropriate at two and three is oppressive at sixteen and seventeen. Besides that, we run the risk of raising a crop of children who have not learned how to look around and see what needs to be done. They are good at standing politely and waiting to be told, but initiative? Virtually non-existent.
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.
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.
I'm saying this as much to myself as anyone else. I can't tell you how many times over the past 22 years I've caught myself in the act of mopping up after one of my children (sometimes literally), only to realize that once again, I have paved the way for them to skip blithely past an opportunity to learn that actions result in consequences.
The unfortunate truth is that helping our kids experience the consequences of their decisions is definitely more work and discomfort for us as parents. It's a whole lot easier, physically and emotionally, to fix mistakes and make decisions ourselves than to give the time and effort it takes to mentor our children in those realms.
DO AS YOU WOULD BE DONE BY
Reaping the consequences of a poor choice is tough. It's the kind of discipline that's painful at the time but will reap a harvest of righteousness in those that are trained by it. However, we don't have to make it any worse than it is. I'm talking about the universal response when someone is reaping what they've sowed. The I-told-you-so.
"See? If you'd just done what I told you to . . ." or "Next time maybe you won't leave your boots out in the rain," etc. I suppose we're trying to make sure they get the message. Could be we're wanting to communicate that it's not our fault, so don't be mad at us. However, these responses rarely accomplish much. Instead, they can end up making us look like the enemy because we seem more interested in driving a point home than caring about what our child is going through. The child ends up feeling unloved, alone, and misunderstood in their suffering.
When your children are feeling the pain of a poor decision, think Golden Rule. Don't say, "I told you so," or "What lesson have you learned here?" Instead, empathize—"Yeah, I hate hauling wood in the dark too. Do you want to take a flashlight along?" Recount an instance when you had to bear the consequence of a similar action (resisting the urge to one-up them). Then give them a smile and a hug, and go on about your business. Resist the compulsion to tell them the lesson they're learning. Just let them bear the burden of their own choice, secure in the knowledge that your love toward them has not changed, and that apparently you think they are mature enough to handle the consequences without holding your hand. It will have much more power to communicate reality than an I-told-you-so.
I don't think I need to point out that parenting is not the easiest job available. But at the same time, what other calling carries with it such great potential, such great influence? The next time you're tempted to short-circuit the law of sowing and reaping, or you see yourself making all the decisions or trying to control your teenager's every move, take a deep breath and remind yourself of the bigger picture. God has given us a high calling indeed: to help our children take their place in the world as confident, responsible, caring, spiritually alive individuals. With His help, we can carry out this trust with intention, compassion, and wisdom.
Leslie Wyatt and her husband Dave have been married 24 years and have six children whom they have homeschooled for 18 years. Leslie is a freelance writer for children and adults, and her work includes an historical fiction novel for middle graders, Poor Is Just a Starting Place. At home in rural Missouri, the Wyatt family lives in an 1883 farmhouse steeped in history and a never-ending supply of work to be done. Music plays a prominent part of their lives (no pun intended!) and Leslie also enjoys flower gardening, sewing, smocking, and camping.
This article was originally published in the Sep/Oct '07 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more details, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com
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