My grandpa thought teaching kids responsibility was easy. In his day and circumstances the resources to accomplish that feat were certainly more prevalent. In fact, anyone in his community that wasn’t teaching kids responsibility was probably having trouble feeding their family. Today, almost none of us have hay barns “out back.” I can’t send my teens out to hook up the plow. Even the “go to” job that parents of people my age used in teaching kids responsibility is a blip in the history books. So much for getting them a paper route, now!
A passive approach to teaching kids responsibility is no longer an option. It isn’t even something that is taking place in the majority of homes as it was in Grandpa’s home town. If teaching kids responsibility is a priority for parents, now, they are going to need to go out of their way to create (yes, create, not find) resources and opportunities to accomplish their goal.
Owning a family business certainly helped my brothers and me with teaching kids responsibility in our families. But we soon found that we needed to step beyond an unnecessary resource that most people don’t have if we truly wanted our children to excel in learning responsibility.
The more we can help our children to understand the reasons to be responsible, the more success we will find in teaching kids responsibility.
Teaching kids responsibility is more complicated than throwing work and chores at them. They need to learn the purpose. As a child and teen I always hated math. Beyond counting apples or figuring out the area of a cube of precious metal (yeah… like I’ve found a need to measure precious metal…) no one bothered to show me what math was for. As I began studying engineering I fell in love with the parts of math that applied to the type of engineering I was studying; because I finally understood the purpose. The more we can help our children to understand the reasons to be responsible, the more success we will find in teaching kids responsibility. Teaching our children the “whys” along with the “whats” is an important parenting skill.
The obvious reward for being responsible comes with jobs as related to finances. Teaching children to earn money for their own use is an excellent way to start, but often, even the most dedicated parenting efforts stop there. The problem comes with the lesson (if left on its own) teaching that the only reasons to be responsible are selfish in nature. That was what my brothers and I found with our children when teaching kids responsibility was limited to a job in the family business.
My wife, Amy, and I stumbled into the next lesson that we used for teaching kids responsibility in our home. Our oldest three children were in their early teens when we brought home three children who didn’t speak English, from Russia. Our fourth child, Jack, has Down syndrome. He was ten at that time. As parents, we were overwhelmed. Teaching kids responsibility wasn’t our focus. The need for the day was survival. The new additions, of course, felt insecure. Amy could hardly walk out of the room. Behaviors from the three youngest were out of control. It was almost as if they had been raised in neglectful families and orphanages (duh…). Whether or not we should have been surprised is not the issue. We needed help. We turned to our first children and the oldest trick in the book for herding kids; the buddy system.
Our oldest child from Russia was five and she needed the least amount of help, so we assigned her to the youngest of the three big brothers. Our three-year-old daughter and two-year-old son were surprisingly close to the same progression levels and so each was assigned to one of the oldest brothers. At last we could be ready when it was time to go somewhere. Finally we could keep track of children who had never seen the inside of a department store. Our younger children began to understand that they were still safe in the home if their new parents weren’t in the same room.
Those times of necessity, while difficult, molded our teens. While our path was not designed with the purpose of teaching kids responsibility, that is exactly where it led.
Then we saddled our older children with more responsibilities. If laundry for a family of nine skipped one single day, it was irrecoverable without a trip to the laundry mat (seven miles away). Clothes that needed to be washed in hot water had to be washed first; right after the water heater had recovered from adult and teen morning showers. Then the water heater needed to recover for bathing the little kids in the evening. Mom required help with meals, cleaning, shopping and more so that she could give Jack and the little ones the time that they needed.
When our older sons dropped the ball, and they did, from time to time, there were consequences that affected the whole family. Those consequences were evident and while not catastrophic, they made life far more difficult. Decisions were made as to which appointments and activities would need to be scrapped when that occurred. People went without things that were important to them. Either everybody in the family did their part or everybody in the home suffered. Those times of necessity, while difficult, molded our teens. While our parenting path was not designed with the purpose of teaching kids responsibility, that is exactly where it led.
We overachieved in our quest to make caring for our family more manageable. So much for teaching kids responsibility.
Within a year-and-a-half after our first children from Russia came home, two teenaged biological sisters from Russia joined our family. These kids came with severe difficulties. A family that had been incredibly busy became overwhelmed. We had been greatly blessed when it came to finances and we built a new home focusing on the challenges of a very big family. There were two refrigerators in the kitchen plus a third and a deep freeze in the garage. We had two ovens, eight burners on the stove top, two dish washers, a laundry chute, three large washers, three large dryers, a heat on demand water system, and eight bathrooms. Soon we were back on top. We could skip doing laundry for a couple of days. We could even be (dare I say???) lazy once in a while. We overachieved in our quest to make caring for our family more manageable. So much for teaching kids responsibility.
Then our older children began to spread their wings and move on. Our younger children were nearing the ages that our older ones were when we thrust responsibility upon them. But now, instead of eleven of us in the home, there were seven (I know, it still sounds like a lot to you, but to us, we had slowed from a D-day invasion to musical chairs).
It didn’t take long to see that our best laid plans were a tragedy for teaching kids responsibility.
The size of the family living at home had dropped by almost forty percent. Our child who required the most attention and resources (one of our oldest daughters from Russia) had also moved on (though like our others, we are still very involved with her). And here we sit in a home designed to deal with more than twice what we have going on. Sure… it makes things easy. No one ever waits for a bathroom. We can put off trips to the grocery store again and again. We can skip doing laundry like nobody’s business. Our family can act like a bunch of spoiled rich people. It didn’t take long to see that our best laid plans were a tragedy for teaching kids responsibility.
We needed to do something more if we were as committed to teaching kids responsibility as we said we were.
I wanted my younger children to turn out like my older ones. I wanted them to understand the importance and blessings of being responsible. We still abused the family business in using it to teach our children to work and manage money. Even so, that was only teaching them the selfish part of the equation. We needed to do something more if we were as committed to teaching kids responsibility as we said we were.
In our scramble to care for our family, first, we had largely forgotten about the community. And the community is what saved us. Amy arranged for us to do a book club at the local retirement home twice a week. Setting up, cleaning up and providing treats worked wonders for restoring some of our resources for teaching kids responsibility. We took charge of doing several reunions and community events during summer months. Those require many hours of work in the home before and after the actual events. During holidays we have assigned our children to find places we can make a difference. (Their favorites are to find things to do where we won’t be seen.)
Finding places and resources for teaching kids responsibility takes more parenting effort than it used to in our family. We’re not as good at teaching those lessons as when they came of necessity, though. But as my children learn responsibility, I hope that they learn something else that’s just as important. I hope they learn about teaching kids responsibility for when they have their own homes and families.
Your comments matter. Please scroll down and share your thoughts!
More articles by John M. Simmons about Parenting
Follow John M. Simmons on his blog
Ensure you don’t miss anything by signing up for Our Weekly Newsletter. This is all you need to be qualified for occasional giveaways like the Kindle Fire that Kristy Goulart won in July!