Last week I began a discussion about building emotional strength in our children through character development. I discussed the quality of gratefulness and how to create a grateful heart in your child. If you didn’t have a chance to read it, be sure to check it out.
The second value that is important to emotional strength is responsibility.
At birth, the dependency factor for a human being is 100% and the responsibility factor starts out at zero. As a parent, my goal every year is to help the dependency factor go down and help the responsibility factor go up. One of my favorite authors, John Ortberg, tells this story.
“Years ago, when my daughters were small, I took them to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I quickly realized what a horrible model my daughters were seeing. Here’s a woman hiding from her stepmother because she feels helpless and afraid. She takes a job doing menial labor for seven short, cranky guys because she’s afraid she could never find more fulfilling work. And she’s sitting around, passively waiting to get rescued by somebody, and singing ‘someday my prince will come’. I wanted my little daughters to know: Don’t ever do that. If you’re ever in a situation, you confront your stepmother face to face. Tell her to come to grips with the aging process, and tell her that you have no intention of being the fall guy, because her neurotic insecurities about fading sexual attractiveness. Tell her to find a good therapist. And tell the seven short cranky guys to get a life. If they cannot handle the basic challenges of personal hygiene and housekeeping, for crying out loud, they’ll have to find some other co-dependent enabler to enable their domestic passivity. And stop waiting for some price to come and rescue you. Build deep relationships. Find meaningful work. Serve the poor. And when it’s time to choose a prince, let Daddy decide who the prince is going to be.”
When responsibility does not get developed in a human being, that person gets crippled. Responsibility is the capacity to own my life and my problems; it is nobody else’s. Paul writes in Galatians 6:5 “Each of you should carry your own load.”
Parents you can’t wait until a kid hits 18 to start teaching this lesson. Here’s an example that will often occur. A child will say to a parent, “I’m bored”. Do you ever hear that one? I’m bored. And very often, the parent is tempted to take that on as his/her problem. So the mom, for instance, will start generating ideas. Well, why don’t you go outside and play? Why don’t you call up some friends and have them come over? Mom or Dad keeps pitching the ideas to the child and the child keeps hitting them out of the park. The correct response is: you know, boredom is a real problem and I am confident you’ll be able to come up with a really good solution. And then you walk away. You walk away because they need to learn this is their life.
Remember, you are starting at zero on the responsibility factor, so you have to gauge it appropriately for whatever their age is. But the responsibility factor better keep going up. I’ve seen parents who take responsibility for all their kid’s difficulties, problems, questions, and concerns. And someday, when the kids hit 18 or 22 or whenever it is they’re going to leave, they’re going to be in for a rude awakening if parents haven’t taught them what it is Paul wrote a couple thousand years ago: “Each should carry his or her own load”.