When our daughter was a toddler, she went through what we refer to as her “Trinna do” stage. She was beginning to learn she could actually do some things for herself and the idea was exciting. Suddenly, “Trinna” wanted to do everything. It was interesting to watch as she had some successes and found out in some areas she still needed a little adult help.
I don’t remember if this lasted for a few weeks or a few months, but suddenly our “Trinna do” girl reverted to a “Mommy pick me up” girl. Evidently, this is a pretty common pattern. While I am no expert in early childhood development, my guess is she experienced a bit of what even adults have learned. Always doing everything for yourself can get exhausting. Sometimes (especially as an adult!) you just want to revert back to the stage where someone else handled all of the problems and carried you home when you were tired.
The problem is either extreme makes for a very irritating adult or a weak (or non) Christian. If your child doesn’t learn to be independent, you will one day find yourself on one of those sad Dr Phil type shows. You will be the desperate parent begging for advice on how to finally “launch” your 45 year old son out of your house and on to his own dollar!
On the other hand, if your child doesn’t realize her need to be totally dependent on God and His grace, she could reject God entirely. If she is totally independent, why does she need God’s help (or grace or anything else from Him?)
So how do you balance the two concepts so your child “grows up” in the real sense of the word while still realizing his need to be God’s “child” forever? Just like balancing the need for healthy self esteem and humility, balancing independence and dependence can be a tough concept to teach. With a little effort and a lot of prayer though, you may just raise a child who moves out “on time” and is still a faithful God-dependent Christian. There are several ways to get started.
1. Don’t be afraid to increase responsibilities as your child gets older. As the parent of a child who will start driving soon, I am painfully aware of the fear that can grip you when you turn over responsibilities to your child. The trick is to turn it over at age appropriate times and ways. Think of it like driving. Your child isn’t immediately given a license. First they have to pass a written test. Then they practice with adults in the car for months. Finally they take a behind the wheel test before they are given a license.
You would not dream of letting your two year old do all of the laundry. How about letting her help you move the clothes from the washer to the dryer? What if he helps you sort the clothes into piles for different types of loads? What other household chores can they begin to learn?
We don’t have set chores in our house because our daughter is swamped with advanced school work and extra curricular activities that we believe are important. She is expected to help on an as needed basis every day though. This means keeping her room neat, putting away her things, keeping her bathroom clean, helping clear her dishes and whatever else I need. The important thing is that your child realizes that no one gets a “free ride” in the house. Not only does it start teaching life skills, but it instills a work ethic.
2. Develop a list of life skills you would like your child to have by the time she leaves your house. We complied our list from several sources. It includes cooking certain basic dishes, cleaning chores, maintenance type activities and finances. (I would be happy to share our list if you are interested.)
During school breaks make a concerted effort to work on items on the list. We have done pretty well with a little over two years to go before college. If you are consistent, you won’t have a panic attack the summer before college trying to teach them how to do everything.
3. Show them your dependence on God by sharing with them how God has helped you through life. Especially share the times where you are not sure how anyone that didn’t have God in their lives could have made it. Pray in front of your children for guidance. Tell them you are praying for certain things. Let them know when you see God working in their lives or in your own.
4. Share the stories from the Bible of people like Joseph, Moses, Gideon and David. Discuss how important it was for them to be totally dependent on God. Share the stories of King Saul and how badly things went when he tried to take the control away from God and do things on his own.
5. If you have done a great job teaching independence, you may need to remind your teen a little more about the need to remain humbly dependent at times. Tell them stories from your teens and twenties when you failed to seek help or listen to the wisdom of those who were older and wiser and the consequences. Watch to make sure they aren’t becoming arrogant in their independence.
Sometimes you may just need to remind them it is ok to ask for help when you need it. Asking for help when you truly need it does not mean you are weak, stupid or a “baby”. Sometimes it is actually the most mature, wisest thing to do. I know if I tried to change a flat tire on the interstate, the results would be pathetic at best. I definitely need the help of someone more experienced if I find myself in that situation and hope to get out in one piece (and in less than six months!). Asking for help is the best thing I can do.
6. On the other hand, there is ‘learned helplessness”. Doing things for a child who is capable of doing them for himself is teaching him he cannot and does not need to do them. Every child is different, but I doubt most parents are still bathing their teen children. You need to thoughtfully turn over other responsibilities to them. By high school, they should be taking care of most of their needs themselves.
7. Don’t be afraid to tie new privileges to new responsibilities. There is nothing wrong with granting a new privilege, but adding a new responsibility with it. “I agree you are probably ready to stay up an extra hour. If you are going to do that though, you need to start laying out your own clothes and packing your own lunch before you go to bed.”
8. Help your child find God’s plan for him. God has a plan for your child. Your child’s job is not to “do anything he wants to do”, but to find out what it is God has planned for him and follow that plan. This encourages his dependence on God as he prays to ask for guidance to find God’s path.
Tell him the many ways God has shown you His way for you during your life. If you are not sure, re-examine your own past. How can you see God was working through your Christian eyes? I would imagine your conversion story is probably a great place to start.
Don’t be afraid to teach your child to be a healthy independent adult. Just remember to teach her a healthy dependence on God at the same time. In a few years, you may just get to have lunch at your child’s house after going to church with him!