Every week my wife and I face situations where we must help our boys learn the responsibility of the choices they make. Believe me, there are plenty of opportunities with three boys around. The challenge is allowing them the freedom to make decisions and walking them through the consequences. Some of the choices they make are good and beneficial, while others are not and create messes. When this happens, our job as parents is to help our boys “own their messes.” This was especially difficult when they were younger because we didn’t like to see them fail, feel pain, or lose out. Sometimes it was just as easy to solve it myself and move on.
Either way, we came to realize that our approach was not working for two reasons. One, our boys’ messes eventually became our messes, even if we had nothing to do with it. Two, it became apparent that our boys weren’t learning for themselves how God designed them to grow into maturity. The day my wife and I figured this out and implemented a different plan with our boys, a surprising transformation took place in our home. We breathed a little easier, the arguing diminished, and the communication of what was expected of them became much clearer.
Here’s an example. Each of our boys has chores around the house. Each of them knows what is expected regarding when and how the chores are to be done. Recently, the chore of taking out the trash went “unattended.” It was overflowing and was smelling something awful. Now, how did I used to handle this? Yell, fuss, belabor the point of how it needs to be done without me always having to give reminders…interject some threats of punishment, and then send him away.
How do we solve this issue in our home now? I calmly called for my son, asked for his cell phone, told him the trash was not taken out by the time we both agreed upon, and informed him he would get the phone back at a later time. No yelling, threatening, or arguing. I know it seems too cut and dry, almost too easy. Rest assured, it doesn’t always go smoothly; but it does create the results we want for our boys.
Below are a few things we did that laid the groundwork for this kind of environment in our home. I also added, in italics, how these points applied to the “taking out the trash” situation above. Know that it will take time, diligence, and even courage to establish this kind of environment, so be patient and graceful. Remember the goal…heart connection.
1) Make the expectations clear for both of you. Mutually agree upon who is responsible in each situation, especially when something doesn’t go right. (My son understands that the trash cannot get to a point of overflowing AND/OR be constantly reminded to do something he already knows to do)
2) Offer them “real” choices. Not just a choice between what you want them to do and don’t want them to do. That’s a set up for failure. Offer two options where either one will work for you. Help them understand the benefits and consequences of not choosing either of the options. (If I don’t allow my son to have some control in how he decides to do his chore, then he might feel like he has no ownership—choosing the day, time, or way empowers him with responsibility. Having a cell phone is a privilege that requires responsibility in other areas of his life.)
3) If they choose “poorly” (kids who push the envelope will do this) be prepared with a plan of what YOU will do to still make it their problem. What I mean is this: consequences breed ownership, ownership breeds responsibility. (On occasion I get push back– you know, a little attitude. I respond to this by saying some of the greatest words a parent will ever learn: “I’m sorry you feel that way, but that’s not my problem.” This keeps the problem where it should be…on its creator. If I get more attitude I encourage them by saying, “I understand this is hard for you, but I think you’re fully capable of figuring this out. If you need help with that, let me know.”)
4) Guard your heart! It’s easy and tempting to become frustrated, desperate, or even angry. Keeping our emotions in check prevents the situation from escalating any further. Just as God is long-suffering with us when we are figuring out life, we need to be the same with our kids.
Teaching our kids (especially boys) to create solutions for their problems without us deciding for them is one of the best gifts we can give to them while they’re in our home. Doing this with sanity and patience can only come from the Holy Spirit’s power working through us. If this is a challenge to you or you have questions about this topic, I invite you to share them with me.