Doing Less Teaches Them To Do More
For the next few weeks, my plan worked and the kids were so proud of themselves with their new sense of responsibility — until one day, my 9-year-old daughter called the office. Expressing worry and distress, she told me she had left a book report poster due that day on the dining room table. She described to me how much time and effort she had spent working on it the night before. She then confirmed that she was aware of my new “dad rule” about leaving things at home, but pleaded with me to bring it to her or she would receive a bad grade on the assignment. She promised that this would be the last time that she would ever call me for anything like this. My initial feeling at that moment was that I could go and get it for her, “just this one time,” because I loved her so much and didn’t want her to fail. But I knew that doing so would violate my boundary and teach her that limits are set to be broken. One of the hardest moments while raising our kids was my decision to tell her that I was abiding by the new family rule, and I was unwilling to retrieve the poster. I wished her a good day, hung up the phone, and cried in my office. As it turned it out, the teacher agreed to give her partial credit for the assignment if she brought it in the very next day; my daughter remembered for herself from that moment on.
Shortly after that incident, I decided they were ready for more responsibility so a new rule was set up; I would give the children their lunch money on Sunday nights for the week. They were now responsible for paying for their lunch each day. For some reason, our particular school system would not accept lunch payment in advance for the week so this created a unique challenge. In our discussion about the new rule, I decided that if they lost their lunch money, I would not replace it, and they would have to bring something from home to eat that day — consisting only of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, crackers with peanut butter, or fruit if available. The point was that if they lost their lunch money, it would not be my requirement to prepare something for them to eat; that was their responsibility. I was also unwilling to be responsible for purchasing any special foods or making anything. They could bring a lunch that they could make on their own — something that I approved. I do know that some parents thought I was a mean father for taking this approach, but my goal was to develop responsible and capable children.
Raising cooperative and responsible children requires teaching them about clear, respectful limits and boundaries. It helps them to become self-sufficient and teaches them personal responsibility. As parents, we love our children dearly, but with our busy schedules and the limited time we have to spend with them, we’ve become convinced that we need to do more for them, rather than teaching them about limits in advance. And once limits are set up, we have to remember that because our children are wired to explore, they will test those limits. Refrain from punishing your children when they test your boundaries, and remain calm. Realize that if you’ve done everything for them in the past and have decided to suddenly make changes, their normal reaction may be to push your boundaries even more. Our children want to know “who’s flying the plane”; it’s up to us to show them we’re the pilot and in charge!