Let me guess: since you’re a mom, you worry about your kids, right? You’ve got the daily “how-much-is-too-much sugar or screen time?” debates and the BIG worries about keeping them safe from dangerous people or injury. It’s enough to make us all go crazy. So, while I sometimes wrestle with concerns about my kids’ sugar intake and make sure they take proper precautions when they head to the local park or corner store without me, I have to admit that I’m much more concerned that they each become a “Contributing Member of Society” (lofty goal, right?) Remember when this was just called being an adult? Yeah, me too.
I’m raising adults. Six of them, to be specific. You might object that only one of my offspring has so far reached legal adult status, but the plan is that they all will. And since kids don’t magically learn how to be an adult on their 18th birthday, the preparation for adulthood starts way before then, when they’re small, foolish, adorable, and dependent. Sadly, it isn’t as common for parents in my generation to see things this way, and yet parents are more stressed out than ever doing things our grandparents would be shocked to see.
My husband and I make a lot of mistakes on this journey, and we have piled up our own parenting regrets along the way. But there are some things that are important to us as we prepare our crew for the future, things that are making a difference. While by no means exhaustive, here is the backbone of our strategy:
Everyone contributes around here. Even toddlers and preschoolers! Chores in our house go way beyond cleaning up bedrooms. Scrubbing bathrooms, mowing the lawn, sweeping the kitchen, and doing dishes are shared responsibilities. My older four all make dinners on their own, and the younger ones are expected to help. Once a kid is tall enough to reach the controls on the washer and dryer (typically around age seven or eight), they do their own laundry from washing to putting away. Our chore chart is easy to read and posted where everyone can see it, no excuses (not even a hard day of school work). No free time happens if work is not done.
I will not do much for them that they are capable of doing themselves. “Honey, you’ll either tell the server what you want to eat or go hungry, I will not speak for you.” “No, I will not contact your teacher about your assignment/test/problem, but here is her contact information.” “If you can’t find what you want in the store, go find an employee and ask them. It’s your responsibility, not mine.”
Bailing them out of their own foolishness is unlikely around here. When they blow their allowance on candy at Walmart and then want to go to a movie with their friend, they’re out of luck. If they break or lose something that doesn’t belong to them, they are personally responsible for the replacement cost. And that precious item they left at church? No special trips. They can look for it the next time we are there. (Small caveat here: Sometimes this is HARD, and I’m tempted to give in, especially if it will make my life easier in the short term. Focusing on the long-term goal can be harder, but it’s always worth it.)
We don’t owe them camps/sports/privileges. I love when my kids are on a sports team or head to summer camp with their best friends. That’s the stuff of childhood! And while we usually are willing to help with the cost of these activities, they are expected to work hard to earn money and contribute. Teenagers want to drive? Great! They’d better get a job so they can afford the car insurance. If it’s important enough to them, they are motivated to work, earn, and save.
There is a lot of freedom for them! In case you have concluded that I’m mean, please know that along with a hefty amount of responsibility comes plenty of individual freedom for my kids. I don’t expect them to be cookie cutters, and I WANT them to be themselves. That might mean someone wearing an outfit that I find hideous and me keeping my mouth shut. They might collect supplies and paint a huge mural on their bedroom wall, or dye their hair fuschia. I don’t dictate how they spend their money, and I don’t micromanage their schedule. At times, their music makes me want to claw out my eardrums (my parents likely said the same thing). If they are interested in stuff that I find stupid, I roll my eyes and move on. Because they aren’t me and that’s a really, really good thing.
I can’t say loudly enough how much I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the six children that God gave me. I love being with them, learning from them, laughing with them. We spend time lingering over long conversations at dinner, tossing the football, reading good books aloud, and chasing each other around the house. But these years that I have them with me are short, and are really supposed to be, and I want to make the most of them. So while I’m going to let them make messes, make mistakes, and make memories, I’m also going to expect a lot from them. And tomorrow I’ll expect a little more.