By Jane Warren
“Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible — the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.”- Virginia Satir
My oldest son turns 23 this weekend. In some ways it seems like just yesterday he was in diapers, but in other ways it seems so long ago since we brought him home from the hospital. Today, he’s a college graduate, financially independent and a productive and responsible member of society – not to mention a very decent human being (if I do say so myself).
He came along right before my first wedding anniversary. My husband and I were both college students, young, broke, but working hard to make ends meet. We were so happy when our son arrived. I was barely 22, but determined to be a good parent and determined not to mess up this beautiful blank slate who’d just arrived.
In my view, my main role as a mom was to teach my son to be a well-balanced, productive, good person. From the beginning, even at my young age, I always had this end in mind and was keenly aware of the limited number of years I had to accomplish my task.
We lived in a small town and so I’m aware of some of the paths his high school classmates have taken. Some have taken to adulthood, gone to school, married and may even have children of their own by now. Others have ended up in prison, under-employed, battling with addictions to drugs and alcohol.
It really isn’t a secret as to how my son and his successful classmates turned out so well while others his age struggle with personal accountability and independence. In 90% of cases, these young adults come from families who taught them, from a young age, to take responsibility for their actions.
These parents, like my husband and I, were involved. We saw the same group of parents attend the school functions, but the parents of struggling kids were no where to be found. Parents of successful children undoubtedly helped with homework and modeled, on a daily basis, what responsible adult behavior looks like. We gave our children a chance to take on responsibility a little at a time, such as making it their job to throw out the wet potty pads for our puppies, and did not shield the children from natural consequences of their mistakes or allow them to place blame.
I saw these same parents helping out at extra-curricular activities, driving on field trips, volunteering to teach a class in 4-H or scouts, selling concessions at school sporting events. At the stores, I observed parents shopping with young children, who were often pushing very small shopping carts filled with food along side mom or dad.
Older children went to the store to pick up a forgotten item and learned to go through the checkout by actually doing it. High schoolers, my own included, shuttled younger siblings to and from friends’ houses. Some children in my area assisted their parents in the day-to-day operation of local businesses, often from the time they could walk and talk. The kids also pitched in to help with taking care of family and neighbors’ pets, from training and grooming to preventive care, and even had a contest one time on how to keep your dogs teeth clean!
Between watching us be responsible adults and actually having a chance to practice responsible behavior, carrying out tasks and duties reliably became second nature to our kids. As our children, imbued with confidence in their ability to function in the world, make their own way in the world, we proudly watch them spread their wings, knowing our hard work has paid off.
About the Author
Jane Warren writes about parenting, family life and pets. She loves to travel internationally, and participate in water sports, especially scuba diving.