I’ve been wondering this week if our marriages would be stronger if we raised kids who were more productive.
When my mother traveled to Costa Rica on a missions trip back in 2004, the thing that shocked her the most was that kids as young as 10 had tremendous responsibility–and handled it well and with joy.
The kids weren’t resentful or entitled or selfish. They worked hard but they had a lot of fun, too.
It reminds me of when I used to read the Little House on the Prairie series. I remember one snippet where Ma and Pa were taking Mary to the blind school, I believe, and Laura and Carrie, who were only about 13 and 11 at the time, were left home alone for a week. And the two girls cleaned the entire house, including replacing straw in all the mattresses and blacking the stove (whatever that means), even though they were so young.
Children in earlier times, and in different parts of the world, have far more responsibility than ours do. They used to have chores–many of them! Not just making their beds. They learned to look after themselves. And they were richer for it.
I think one of the reasons that 14 and 15-year-olds in eras past didn’t try to “find themselves” in the same numbers as today’s teens do is that they already knew they were useful, and they had a purpose.
They learned to think outside of themselves.
When kids do chores, they learn that other people rely on them; that they are expected to contribute to the family; that their work is useful. They learn that they can master something important, and that they must think about the effect of their own effort, or lack of effort, on other people.
Our children, on the other hand, too often live a very self-centred existence. From the moment they’re born, our lives revolve around them, rather than the other way around. We take them to play dates, put them in kindergym and kindermusic, and then they go to school where they learn all about self-esteem. We sign them up to activities so that they’ll “have fun”. We buy them toys that they’ll enjoy. And when you feel like you are the centre of the universe, then your feelings become all important. Perhaps that’s one reason why so many teens have so much angst.
As parents, we need to start getting back to the idea that children need responsibilities.
Their lives should not revolve around entertainment. I think kids who do have responsibility and learn to care for the home actually end up less depressed and less rebellious because they are less self-focused. When my girls were living at home we expected them to do a lot of chores. And we expected them to volunteer at church and with caring for younger kids.
Perhaps what we need is more of a long-term view.
Sometimes all our energy is spent getting through today–making sure the kids don’t beat each other up, tear the cat’s fur out, set anything on fire, or run out of the house naked.
So our lives are spent trying to avoid the small fires. We’ll do whatever we can to keep the kids busy–put them in front of video games; let them watch the TV; or separate the siblings constantly so they don’t fight instead of focusing on how to help them work things out.
I think what helps is a bit of a mind-switch: we need to realize that we are raising families, not children.
Your kids will not always be kids. One day they will be adults. And the kind of adults they will be depends upon how you raise them now. Focus on the future.
I like to say that the best gift you can give your future daughter-in-law is a son who cleans toilets. He will be a catch indeed! And if he can make a lasagna, too, she’ll be in heaven.
If you want your children to have strong marriages, then, raise them to be responsible early. And the more children do chores and learn to help around the house, the more they’ll reduce our own stress as a couple, too.
So do your kids have a chance to learn necessary skills? Are you teaching them delayed gratification, or do you focus more on distraction if they get miserable? Are they forced to get along with their siblings, or do you let them watch television in their own rooms? Do your kids know how to handle money? Even a 4-year-old can be taught the importance of saving for something.
Let’s aim for the future and make sure we’re raising kids to be responsible. Otherwise we may say that we value marriage, but our actions aren’t necessarily showing it.
What do you think? Do today’s kids need to learn to be more responsible? Let’s talk in the comments!