There is a trend going through our culture in the last few years that troubles me greatly. Sociologists call this trend "delaying adulthood" and you might say that its spirit is caught up in the phrase "Thirty is the new twenty." All across the cultural spectrum we are seeing the effects of this tend. In addition, many social scientists have advocated lengthening adolescence to the late twenties (some are suggesting twenty-eight years old!). I am of the opinion that nothing good can come of theses trends - the economic, social, and psychological/emotional consequences have yet to be fully considered or observed.
But what does this mean for parenting?
As I mentioned in my last blog, my wife and I made the decision to raise adults and not children. Needless to say, that's not a very widespread or understood approach to parenting. But I believe that this is one of the two most important decisions that a parent can make regarding their parenting style. In light of that belief, I wanted to begin our conversations about parenting here.
So what do I mean when I say that we raised adults and not children? First, we raised our kids with the concept that they (and we) were always in the process of becoming. It should go without saying that there is no magic number that confers adulthood, or any other stage of life. Most of us have had the ages of eighteen and twenty-one ingrained in our thinking as those magical ages when one becomes "legal." But legality does not equal maturity. All of us could name many folks of "legal" age who are far from adult in thinking or behavior. Not only that, we each could give personal examples of areas in our own lives in which we took longer to "grow up" than in others.
Raising adults not children requires an understanding of the process - what are kids are capable of and ready for and crafting expectations accordingly. This is done with the desired end always in mind. Good parents wish to raise adults who are able to interact in positive and appropriate ways with the world we live in . This builds itself upon foundational principles such as honesty, responsibility, consistency, and respect. I will take the rest of my time today reviewing these principles.
Honesty. Dishonesty is deeply woven into the fabric of our lives. The old joke about being able to tell when a politician is lying: his lips are moving is far more widespread in our culture than just our politics. We've created a term for our dishonesty: "little white lies." An entire theology has risen up around Santa Claus - and none of it is true (But that's a discussion for another day). We applaud those who are able to speak in nuance and we try to avoid "hard" truths and the words "I was wrong."
Yet our children need us to model honesty before them in all things. We must make keeping our word a priority in all our relationships. We must be just as willing to confront dishonesty in ourselves as well as our children. Raising adults models and expects honesty in our children's words, attitudes, and actions.
Responsibility. There are more philosophies about child-rearing out there than I can number - and they range from the gamut from "free-range parenting" to "General Patton's guide to creating good little soldiers." I'm joking...I hope. The truth is that no child should be raised in a responsibility-free environment and no child should bear the entire weight of their actions from the beginning. The key word to remember is process. I have never me a two year old who could do their own laundry or get themselves up and dressed in the morning. Responsibility is to be developed in small steps. Communication and consistency are keys in developing responsibility. Remember that your kids get wax (and lots of other things) in their ears and as a result they don't always hear or remember well. A key is to rehearse your instructions clearly, consistently, and continually (or at least it seems that way). Be sure to applaud (appropriately) success and to use failure as a teaching opportunity.
There will always be questions concerning appropriate tasks for certain ages. I don't believe that there are any hard and fast rules in this regard but I do believe that even casual observation will give you clues as to what your kids are ready for. But some general rules do apply, such as no life-threatening activities (eight year olds are NOT ready to cook unsupervised or drive cars and children about to enter Junior high should be able to wash their bodies and clothes separately and unsupervised).
Consistency. If we were to be honest (haven't we talked about this already?) we'd all have to admit that this is the area that we all feel that we have failed at. I have met very few parents who saw no importance in consistency with their kids. We have all heard, and may even have said, "Do what I say, not what I do." That has never worked and it never will. We model the behavior that our kids will follow. That fact alone makes consistency supremely important. All the teachers and coaches in the world cannot blot our the influence of a parent on a child's behavior.
To put it as simply as possible: consistency is walking your talk. Parents who raise adults are models of consistency in word and deed. Please note that I have spent most of this topic talking about personal behavior rather than an actual parenting skill. That's a deliberate choice. There is no greater molder of our children's lives than the daily behavior that is observed by our kids. Nothing gets by them and they don't forget anything.
Respect. Respect is in short supply in our world. God to any ball field or classroom and you'll see ample testimony to this truth. To raise adults requires that we instill in them respect for others, positions, the law, and themselves. We must remember that self-respect is vastly different from self-esteem. Self-respect creates adults that value others while self-esteem creates adults who are only aware of themselves.
As with each of the other principles we've discussed today, respect is more caught than taught. Our children will mirror the respect that we display for them. Sadly, this most recent Presidential election revealed just how little respect there is for anything in our culture. It would seem that there are few adults in our land today. Respect is demonstrated in how we treat each other and how we drive (yes, I went there) and our forms of entertainment. Respect recognizes the inherent worth that we all possess as the unique image of God. Persons raised with respect will become the defenders of the poor, the weak and the marginalized. Respect creates citizens who recognize the rule of law and its broad application to every citizen. Let me close this section by saying that respect is in written words, although they can convey respect. Respect is not found in flowery speech or powerful performance, it is demonstrated in life as we live it each and every day.
These are the foundational principles for raising adults, at least as I understand them. But these are not enough in and of themselves. Next time I will look at the one things that ties all these together and makes adults.