The Connection Between Our Expectations and Independent Kids
I recently read a very interesting article titled “My Rules For My Kids: Eat Your Vegetables; Don’t Blame The Teacher”. (Actually, the first version I saw was called “How I Made Sure That All 12 Of My Kids Could Pay For College Themselves”, so I thought that it was going to be an article on finances and saving and investing, but actually, it had nothing to do with that.) It describes how the author, Francis L. Thompson, and his wife raised their kids and what their expectations of their kids were.
What really struck me was the high level of responsibility put on the kids. You can only learn so much about a family of 14 from one short internet article, but it really does seem that Mr. Thompson and his wife truly believed their kids were always capable of more. I don’t mean that they pushed them to excel, but rather that they never bought into the idea that “they’re only kids”. Not many of us have our eight year olds doing their own laundry, but the Thompson’s did. In fact, many parents that I’ve casually mentioned this to have gone wide-eyed at the idea. This then leads to a reluctant, “well, I guess they could do it” response, or a flat-out, “no way. That’s crazy.”
I’m actually of the opinion that we don’t expect enough from our kids. I’m not saying that we should go back to pre-Industrial Revolution standards for our children, but if kids back then worked 12+ hours a day, six days a week, in a physically and emotionally demanding job, then surely – surely! – our kids can put their dishes in the dishwasher and be taught how to clean a toilet.
We recognize that it takes time to train our kids to learn a new tasks, whether that’s cleaning a toilet, weeding the garden, or changing the oil in the car (as Mr. and Mrs. Thompson had their kids do starting at age 11). And in our time-crunched society, it is simply easier and faster to do it ourselves. So we start to develop a mentally of they’re-not-ready-now-but-they-will-be-later. But we forget that there won’t come a time when our child just simply knows how to clean that bathroom. There will be a learning curve, regardless of whether he’s three or 13 when we start to require more from him. And if we lead our children to believe that they aren’t capable, or that there is no expectation that they contribute to the family, we’re setting ourselves up for pampered, disengaged kids who don’t feel a sense of responsibility to others, but who also don’t see themselves as capable and competent. Listen, I would not have relished the task of rebuilding my own car as a 16 year old (that’s right, the Thompson’s did that too), but I also know that their kids who did must have felt like they could do anything once those cars became road-worthy.
I think what I was really left with after reading this article was the reminder that kids rise to whatever bar we set for them. I’m not talking about unrealistic expectations of perfection, but that if we believe that our children are capable and we provide the lessons and the guidance to take more and more responsibility in and for their lives, they rise to the occasion. We need to raise our kids with the assumption that they can, not wait until they prove us before we believe it.