No parent leaves the hospital with their newborn thinking, “How can I mess up this kids life?” In fact, most of us probably had strong ideas on how we’d raise our little ones to grow into successful, well-adjusted adults who love Jesus. However, we might not know how to effectively train the character qualities that will help our children most and counter those attitudes that will harm them and their future relationships.
Many of us parent how we were parented. Either that, or we swing far right or left in an effort to raise our children differently. But in doing so, we may actually be hindering their long-term success. Here are three ways parents can inadvertently sabotage their children’s future.
Rescuing Your Children When They Face Difficulties
It was our daughter’s senior year, and she was taking some very difficult classes in order to raise her class ranking. She’d been working toward an academic scholarship since middle school, and now, with less than six months to graduation, she risked losing it. The problem wasn’t her fault, and it was beyond her control. Her calculus 2 teacher had taken an eight-week maternity leave that the district appeared unprepared for. The result—our daughter and her classmates had to teach themselves the material.
She was stressed and terrified. She knew this one class could jeopardize a $20,000 scholarship.
My initial response: drop the class. But my husband viewed the situation differently. He understood what was at stake, and he determined her character and inner strength was more important than the scholarship. Had I stepped in to take control of the situation, I would’ve conveyed the message, “I don’t think you can handle this.”
According to Children’s Director of Northland Baptist Church in Kansas City, Dr. Leslie Umstaad reminds parents that everything they do or don’t do with their children has long-term consequences. “The danger we run into is creating a mentality within our children that knows no perseverance or forthwith. Rather, they only know selfish ambition and giving up when the going gets tough.”
My husband understood this, and was able to view the situation through a long-term lens. Therefore, instead of fixing the situation or her, we spoke words of encouragement and reminded her that God was still in control, even when she felt as if her life was in chaos. In fact, it’s often in the chaos that God grows us—and our children—the most.
During her early years, I often brought our daughter grocery shopping. Once we arrived home, I gave her the job of carrying everything inside. Inevitably, she’d get upset. But whenever she’d complain I’d tell her, “I’m training you to be a servant, not one who wants to be served.” Over time, this stuck, and it went a long way toward curbing her sense of entitlement.
According to Dr. Umstaad, parents must train against entitlement from a young age on. “We need to instill within them a work ethic where they have chores,” she says. “We also need to help them realize that the things they have, including the basics of food, shelter, and clothing have value and cost.”
This is important because their attitude, positive or negative, will affect all areas of their life. “...marriage is a great example,” Dr. Umstaad says. “An entitled attitude says it should always be easy, happy, and when it’s not these things, I don’t have to be committed anymore.” Though they are constantly striving for happiness, ultimately, they will rob themselves of true fulfillment. “They will always feel like they deserve more—the best, because it is ‘their right.’”
The best way to counter entitlement, according to Lori Macmath, Children’s Director at Harvest Chicago West, is to actively train compassion. When her children were young, she and her husband actively sought to encourage gratitude and a servant’s heart in each of her children. “We didn’t simply buy a gift for the giving tree, we delivered those gifts,” she says. “We took mission trips in the USA, specifically to the inner city of Lexington, Kentucky. We witnessed first hand what a food desert is and spent time in a local after school program. My family was also engaged in foster care, getting trained in respite, emergency care, and transport of foster children and engaged in relationships with people whom others shunned.”
All of this intentional parenting came at a cost. “It was hard,” she says. “It was uncomfortable. But we were called, and thank God my children were watching.”
The result? All three of the Macmath children, now grown, are intentionally living unentitled. One works in the inner city D.C. tutoring children while pursuing public health. Another works with refugees at World Relief. Their youngest, still living at home, is using music to reach others for Christ.
However, Lori wants to make one thing clear: “My children have compassionate hearts not because of me, but because of Jesus. As we allowed Jesus to do a refining, often uncomfortable work in us, we were simply being a witness to them.”
Becoming Enslaved to Their Schedules
When we were young, we joined a little league team to develop gross motor skills and make friends. Now, everyone, it seems, wants to raise the next Serena Williams or Simone Biles. We fill our schedules so full driving our children from one event to the next that we rob them of much needed family time. We also train them, from an early age, to value their accomplishments above relationships and we increase their chance of becoming workaholics.
In addition, when we allow the family to be dominated by our children’s schedules, they may grow up believing we are here to serve them and that they are the center of the universe.
The solution? Moderation. Allow each of your children to choose one activity, and make sure you schedule family and downtime into your week. Your kids will be healthier, emotionally, your family will be stronger, and there will be more time for weightier matters such as faith.
Though no one will ever parent perfectly, by avoiding some of these common pitfalls and maintaining a long-term focus, we can avoid sabotaging our children’s futures. When we train perseverance, hard-work ethic, compassion, and balance, we help our children grow into well-adjusted and contributing adults.
Jennifer Slattery lives in the midwest with her husband and their teenage daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, Internet Cafe Devotions, and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and compilation projects.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: December 5, 2016