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What One Thing Do You Want Your Kids To Leave Home With?

January 5, 2020

I have a friend I don’t get to hang out with enough, who is one of my favorite people for hanging out with because he asks good questions. And by good, I mean questions that are a little hard to answer because they’re about things that really matter. Years ago (many years ago, now), this friend asked me one of the most important questions I’ve ever been asked.

“What one thing do you most want your kids to leave home with when they head out on their own?”

Well, the answer to that one was easy. I want them to have a personal relationship with Jesus.

Right. That’s a given. After that, what one thing do you most want your kids to leave home with when they head out on their own?

Now that’s a lot harder to answer. My friend didn’t have the answer. He only had the question. So we wrestled with it together until we came up with what I think is a good answer. Here’s what we came up with.

The one thing, after a personal relationship with Jesus, that we most wanted our kids to have when they left home and headed out on their own is the ability to make good decisions for themselves.

When I read that now, I think, “Well, duah…” It seems pretty much like simple common sense. And it is. But, as you probably know, common sense isn’t so common.

There are so many other things that parents try to equip their kids with before they leave the nest. The one I see and hear about most often is “a healthy self-esteem.” I believe a healthy self-esteem is a good thing. I want one, myself. And, yes, I wanted it for all three of my daughters. But I think many of the kids who are leaving the nest, whose parents (and teachers) believe they’ve done everything to give them healthy self-esteem are actually leaving with a dim shadow of the real thing. When they encounter the difficulties and challenges of real life – and, boy, will real life pitch these at them – these kids often get flattened. Failure is inevitable, and will roll over them like a steamroller. Especially since Mommy or Daddy aren’t there to somehow deflect or absorb it for them, or pay the consequence of the failure for them. When they finally get their flattened selves up, they begin to try to figure out who did this terrible thing to them. Because it sure couldn’t be the fault of someone as brilliant and worthy as they are. When this pattern continues, it creates victims.

I believe strong, healthy, sustainable self-esteem is one of the many outcomes of learning how to make good decisions. It is both an outcome and a reinforcement. Good decisions result in self-esteem, and it reinforces it as positive consequences come from good decisions.

Please tell me I’m a good guy with worlds of potential. I need that. Tell me I’ve got what it takes. I need that, too. Or better yet, tell me you’ll help me figure out what it takes, and then help me get equipped with it. But don’t just tell me this stuff. Give me a chance to get there for myself. Help me, but don’t do it for me. Because if you do, I’ll never have the blessing of owning it for myself.

So how do you help me own it for myself? I believe the best way to do this is to help me learn how to make good decisions.

And you know how to do that. You let me make some bad decisions and pay the price for them. Experience is a good teacher.

I’m not talking about inappropriate decisions that your kid isn’t capable of making well. This isn’t about giving the car keys to your 5-year-old and saying, “Have fun, but make good decisions, and be home before midnight.” I’m talking about age-appropriate decisions. Developmental psychologists have been writing books about this for generations, and there are hundreds of articles and papers on the Internet about it. Your common sense (you know, that uncommon thing) can guide you, and may be your best resource. Here’s something I’ve found helpful on this subject. It will give you a sense of what children are generally capable of at various ages, which will give you some help figuring out what’s appropriate for your kids. It’s not the definitive statement on this, but it’s something to get you started.

Your kids doing household chores and developing responsibility muscles is really the starting gate for helping them learn how to make good decisions. The motto for this idea is, “Never do for your kids what they can do for themselves.” The reason is simple on this. They’ll let you do pretty much anything you want to do for them. Unless they’re 2. That’s when their motto is “I do it myself!” Unfortunately, this never covers picking up their toys or clothes, or generally anything that’s meaningful and helpful.

By the time they’re 3, though, they can be taught and expected to take some basic responsibilities. Like picking up their toys. You’ll need to supervise them. You’ll also have to teach them how to do this. Teach them how you do it. I think the best way on this is to do the chore with them. At first. Until you’re convinced they know how to do it. Then give them chances to prove to you that they’re enough of a “big kid” to do this on their own. Spoiler alert: this will not guarantee that they’ll do a great job of cleaning up their toys on their own, or that they will be thrilled to do it. But if you don’t do something like this, you’ll be picking up their stuff until they leave for college…

Picking up toys is just one thing . The article I gave you a link for above will give you a ton of good help expanding the field.

Your kids may not be totally thrilled with the chance to grow and develop in this way. In fact, they may very well fight you tooth and nail all the way. Sometimes they’ll be so good at fighting you that you’ll be tempted to do the chore or whatever the thing is instead of fighting them, because just doing it yourself is so much easier than fighting WWIII. And in the short run, it will be easier. But if you’re taking a long view and looking to the future, the battle is worth is.

This is too big of a subject to tackle in one installment. I’ll pick it back up next time, and talk about how to let your older kids begin making decisions for themselves.

From → Parenting

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  1. What One Thing… pt 2 | HomeworK with Steve Thomas

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