Anyone who says parenting is easy . . . probably doesn’t have kids. Okay, definitely doesn’t have kids.
It’s always fun when people call you a parenting expert. First, I think an expert is someone who’s not from your town. And second, a parenting expert is just someone who made their mistakes earlier and took the time to write or speak about them.
So I’m not coming at this from the perspective of an expert, but simply as someone who’s raised a couple of sons. I’ve made lots of mistakes that I’ve written about at length in many places.
That said, both my sons have turned out to be reasonably responsible young adults. Make that surprisingly responsible. At 23 and 19, they are sometimes more organized than their dad. They finish assignments at university before they’re due. They think ahead. Sure, they’re not perfect, but they take care of things far better than I did at their age.
So I keep asking myself . . . how did this happen? Certainly, it can’t be from their father.
The best answer is probably an incredible mom and the grace of God, both of which are very true.
But is there a principle or a habit that also came into play?
I think there is. If I had to summarize it in a phrase, I’d say it this way: Shift the responsibility.
Let’s face it, as parents, we feel incredibly responsible for the kids that come our way. And we should.
But as our kids grow up, most of us are tempted to take on some of the responsibility we should rightfully leave for them.
Example: I’m a neat freak, so toys all over the house drove me nuts when my kids were young. After all, house and home magazines are filled with pictures of tidy homes, not living rooms strewn with action figures and Lego with blobs of yogurt splattered all over them.
As a dad, I found it so much easier to pick up after my kids than to insist they do it. It was simpler to do their chores than it was to put up with the reality-TV-level-drama of asking them to do what they said they were going to do when they said they were going to do it.
As they got older, it was easier to pay for whatever they wanted this week than was is to insist it come out of their savings from their allowance or their first job. And there would have been far less tension if we hadn’t made them pay for the little (or big) dings on the car that happened when they were behind the wheel.
Time and again, I was so tempted to assume responsibility for all of that, letting my kids off the hook. After all, nice parents do all those things for their kids, right?
Sometimes I caved, but time and time again, my wife and I would fight the gravitational pull we felt and insist that, no they were responsible for whatever the issue was.
And guess what? They turned out to be. . . responsible.
Maybe it’s true that—ironically—if you want responsible kids, you need to stop assuming responsibility for them in every situation.
Let them figure it out.
Let them live with the consequences of their action.
Let them save for what they want.
Because one day they’ll leave home and actually face all of that.
That doesn’t give you a license to be cruel while they’re with you…but it does give you a license to be a parent.
In an age of helicopter/snowplow/hovercraft parenting, maybe that’s good thing to keep in mind.
Is there anything in your kids’ lives you’ve assumed responsibility for that really belongs to them?
Giving it back to them might be one of the most responsible things you can do.
Carey is the lead pastor of Connexus Community Church, a growing multi-campus church near Toronto and strategic partner of North Point Ministries. Prior to starting Connexus in 2007, Carey served for 12 years in a mainline church, transitioning three congregations into a single, rapidly growing congregation. Carey writes one of the most widely read Christian leadership blogs today. He is the author of “Leading Change Without Losing It” and co-author of “Parenting Beyond Your Capacity” with Reggie Joiner. He and his family live in Ontario, Canada. Find Carey on his blog or follow him on Twitter @Cnieuwhof.