I have four children, so I get it. Parenting is hard.
As James Dobson once wrote, it’s not for cowards. That beautiful little sleeping newborn is actually the beginning of a full grown human being, with wants, desires, attitudes, feelings, and emotions. And as that baby grows up, it will ask more and more of you. And society, Pinterest, friends, pressure, and the media will tell you that they need it.
The thing is, they don’t. Here’s what kids actually need to succeed:
10) Give Them a Job. Nothing will instill a work ethic better in your child than earning money. Allowances are not a good idea. You don’t get paid just for existing, and neither should a child. Once you feel your kids are ready to have some pocket change, have them earn it. Whatever the age, there is an appropriate job for them to do in your family. Washing clothes, doing dishes, feeding pets, making beds, dusting. Menial jobs are great for kids, not because they are your servants, but because it helps them realize there is value in any kind of work. Pay them for their work–and if they don’t work, don’t pay them. If they complain, remind them that if you don’t do your job each week, you wouldn’t get paid, either. It’s a great way to prepare them for future employment, and will help them grow as responsible, contributing members of your family.
9) Celebrate Together. It’s easy to fall into a routine. Work, school, chores, playtime, bed. Over and over again. One of the joys of the many random holidays we have throughout the year is that kids love them. They love St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day, and all the rest. What has happened, though, thanks to Pinterest, is that every parent believes they have to do some kind of huge extravagant thing every holiday . Guess what? Kids don’t care how much it cost or how much time you spent being creative. So don’t break the bank, don’t sweat it, but celebrate the dumb holidays, even in small ways. Create reasons to celebrate or have a party for no reason. You don’t have to be Pinterest perfect. What your kids will appreciate and remember is that you did something to break the routine and give them a reason to celebrate.
8) Teach Them to Be Grateful. Gratitude is defined as a “feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive.” But when was the last time you actually saw someone show gratitude? Sure, we celebrate Thanksgiving every November, but how often do we pause to say thank you to those around us? Not often, which teaches kids to think that they deserve everything. Kids think they do. They think they deserve that stuff you bought them, that vacation you took them on. But they don’t. Nothing we have or get to do is something that is due us. We are blessed to have any good thing in our lives. Teaching your kids to say thank you, for presents, for dinner, for help, for anything helps them learn to be grateful. When you say thank you, you are making a point that what you are receiving is undeserved, that you understand you don’t deserve it, and you are grateful for what you have been given.
7) Think About the End. What do you want you kids to be when they grow up? I don’t mean what they should do for a living–I mean, what kind of person will they be? Who will they be? If all you focus on when they’re kids is making sure they do great in school, that they play the right sport or go to the right school, you’re missing the greatest area where you can influence your children: who they will be when they are your age. You want a kid who loves others? Then you need to model that. Want a child who realizes that marriage is awesome, but it’s a lot of work? Then show your kids that. You know that the things you saw in your home growing up are a huge influence on your views about marriage, money, church, relationships. When you think about the person you hope your child will be at your age, remember that what you show them today helps determine who they will be tomorrow.
6) Make Them Pay for Things. If you’ve given your kids a job, then they have money to spend. And if they aren’t spending their own money to buy the things they want, they will never learn the value of money. We pay our kids each week for their job as part of the family. And when they want to buy a book or new clothes, they pay for them. They don’t always enjoy when they have to spend money on jeans after they’ve ripped a hole in the knee, but then again, I don’t like it either. I’d rather spend my money on Xbox games and fun vacations then on electric bills, garbage, and a mortgage. But being responsible with my money means I am careful to spend on what I have to, save for what I want, and enjoy it when I get to buy something “fun.” I learned this much too late in life–but love seeing that when my kids have to buy things for themselves, they learn the wisdom of saving, the joy of ownership, and the value of frugality.
5) Remember That Time Matters. What you do with your time shows your children just how important they are–and it will be reflected in how they treat time with their kids, too. Are you present with your kids? Are you on your phone? When you do have time together as a family, do they see that you are checked in? Or are you checking Facebook? Parents have a limited number of days with their kids, and for them to succeed, parents need to give kids what they need most: their time. Whether or not you realize it, you are the single biggest influence in your child’s life. If you give up your time with them (about 900 weeks from the day they are born until high school graduation) because you working so you can buy them more stuff or greater opportunities, you’re missing the thing they need most: you. Your friends’ lives on Facebook isn’t nearly as interesting as the child in front of you–let them know it.
4) Teach Them to Honor Others. Putting someone’s needs ahead of ourselves is not something that comes easy to anyone, especially children. And we live in a me first, survival of the fittest, society. But when we value someone more than we value ourselves, it’s amazing how unselfish, how self-sacrificial, how kind and gentle we can be. Our family have struggled with this on and off again, but using what we call “The Honor Chart” has helped us a lot. We track daily when someone puts someone else above themselves–like doing their dishes for them, or helping them without being asked, or even just playing nicely with each other. We also track when people get selfish, talk rudely to each other, or act unkind. It’s amazing how quickly the “dishonor” adds up! (Mom and Dad are included in the list, too.) Teaching kids to value others more than themselves helps them see the importance of their words and actions towards others.
3) Find Other Adults Who Can Speak Into Their Lives. While you might be the biggest influence on your child’s life, you aren’t the only one. You can choose who those people are, instead of leaving it just to chance, or to your kids (who will choose celebrities, movie stars, singers, and the like). Find some great adults who can speak into your kids lives about the stuff you can’t or aren’t able to. These people can be coaches or directors, church leaders or mentors. They can be the mechanic who works on your car, or the neighbor who has that amazing yard. Find quality, well-respected, mature, and good people, and help your kids connect to them. Church, school, neighborhood, sports field, neighborhood theatre. They can be found everywhere. They can encourage and cheer on your kids in ways that you never can. Your kids will have other influences–why not be intentional about who those influences are?
2) Value Experiences Over Things. We place a high value on things in our culture. Having what is new, owning what is now–it’s very important. Trouble is, things don’t last. That great new tv you just bought has already been made obsolete. Your phone is out of date, and you’re still in a contract for two more years. And don’t even talk about that computer. Sure, you will probably hold on to your house for a long time, but the furniture in it? It’s not new to hear that memories are the only things you can hold on to, but it’s true. If you have a house full of all the newest and nicest things, but never spend your money creating memories, you’re teaching your kids the wrong thing. Possessions come and go, but memories last forever. The National Parks I visited with my family growing up? The road trips I’ve taken my kids on? Those are shared experiences that we will never forget. I don’t even remember the color of the last two couches I had. Things are great, but they don’t last. Doing things with your kids and creating memories together? That lasts forever.
1) Show Them That Grace is the Greatest Gift You Can Give. Kids hear all the time about how they’ve messed up, how they don’t measure up, where they have gone wrong. As parents, it is our job to correct and train our children to make wise choices as they grow up. But when they don’t, what is the response? Parents, disappointed in their own failures, often maximize or blow out of proportion a child’s failure. I know–the response I’ve given to my five year old over his lack of appetite when my wife has made an amazing dinner far outweighs the actual circumstance. What do I want most when I screw up? I want grace. And yet, I can’t show grace to a kid who thinks anything with green in it is poison? You get it–if we want to have grace-filled children, who are quick to forgive, slow to anger, and generally awesome, we need to be grace-filled parents. When your kids gets a less than perfect report card, it’s fine to have consequences–but measure them with grace. When your child spills that glass of wine all over the carpet, remember the grace you received for a much greater slight. When kids see grace lived out, they will live out grace as well.
Author’s Note: I’m working on these just as hard in my home as I hope you will be in yours. One of the reasons I wrote this list is to remind me of what matters most to help my kids grow up and succeed in this wonderfully messy thing we call life.