My Mom Journey: Encouraging Responsibility

I think as parents one of the greatest challenges that we have is teaching our kids how to grow up well. It’s a constant process of teaching them how to speak, act, think, live… and it can be exhausting because you know that if you back off, everything can just fall apart and you might end up starting at the beginning again.

I also think part of the challenge is knowing when your kids are ready for the next step. When it was just Olivia it felt easier to step back and assess things, then adjust, whether it was discipline or expectations. Having two kids in different stages leaves my head feeling like it’s ready to explode most days.

We have to regularly remind ourselves that not only are our kids not the same age, they also have entirely different personalities. What worked for Olivia at a certain age doesn’t necessarily work with Alex, so we’re always having to look at things and make changes where we see the need.

When it comes to disciplining our kids we’re learning that one of the biggest obstacles in the process isn’t the kids – it’s us! It can be exhausting to go through a day where you feel like you’re herding caffeine high hamsters. They’re all running around in different directions and not talking or at least not using real words and what seems reasonable or normal to them doesn’t even hit on the average persons “normal” radar. Some days I just want to sit on the couch and let them destroy the house because that seems like it would be easier than repeating myself over and over. But, then I remind myself this is the hard work of growing people.

And, friends, that right there is the key point.

As parents the real goal isn’t to make our kids behave or become responsible now, it’s about asking ourselves what type of people we want to see our children be when they’re in their 30’s or older. What kind of character traits do we hope they possess? How do we hope they’ll treat others? How do we hope they’ll conduct themselves when issues of integrity are put before them? When they have to make hard decisions or go through hard times?

That’s what all this craziness is about. We’re growing people here, folks!!!

Lately we’re going through one of those phases where we realized we needed to step back and reassess, then change what isn’t working any more. The kids are just in a different place than they were six months ago. They need different guidelines and challenges.

With both kids we’ve realized that, because of our own exhaustion around the whole issue, we’d let discipline slide a bit. We were being too slack with Olivia in the sense that we were giving her too many warnings and chances, and she wasn’t taking us seriously enough. With Alex, he’s finally at the stage where he’s understanding his actions have consequences and doing something he has been told not to do will warrant discipline.

This past weekend we decided to turn the train around and start being more firm again. Because Olivia is old enough to have a conversation with we were honest and just told her that we’d been letting her get away with too much and that we could see she didn’t respect us when we told her to do or not do something, so there were going to be fewer warnings and requests, and more expectation that our instructions would be honored. We know that Olivia is a child who thrives on praise, so we encouraged her in the fact that we know she’s a big girl who is able to make good choices, and that we’ve seen her being obedient and respectful. For her, a few short days of re-establishing where the lines are is enough to steer her in the right direction. She will go from being a kid who acts like she didn’t hear what you said to voluntarily tidying up the kitchen (seriously, this is what she did on Saturday morning, for fun…).

Alex, is still too young to have a logical conversation with, so obviously other ways of letting him know what’s what are needed. We came down hard on him with not letting him get away with stuff we were outright telling him not to do. As in, “Alex, don’t touch,” only to have him look at us and see the wheels turning as he decided whether he would touch or not. By being firmer with him sooner we’re seeing him take the warnings more seriously.

The root of this is teaching our kids responsibility. Responsibility for themselves, their thoughts, their actions, etc.

In our home, another part of these lessons of responsibility is around the fact that we expect everyone in our home to contribute to helping it run well. We all benefit from a happy home, so we all need to actively be part of that. As adults, Chris, Ryan and I share cooking responsibilities and clean up the kitchen and other main areas. Yonese is obviously a huge help too.

Alex isn’t old enough to have any major responsibilities, but we are trying to teach him things like helping to clean up. Small requests like putting clothes in the kids hamper are fun for him because he’s coming at it from the, “Hey Mom, look what I did!” perspective where he’s super proud of himself for what will later be expected of him. Obviously we encourage that! I’m going to tell him he did a good job if he listens or does something that will later lead to a good character trait. It’s like a game for him and it’s a game where we all win. He wins the praise from Mom and Dad and we win knowing that these are building block for the future.

Olivia is old enough to take on more responsibility. Over time we’ve come to expect that she cleans up the kids toys, and that they go where they’re supposed to. I’ve been able to walk her through the right places to put things, and when she chooses to do a thorough job, she does put things where they go. If she’s being a bit lazy, I remind her and make her fix it. She knows her clothes go in certain places, her books in another, and toys in another. She helps set the table when we ask, and is slowly getting more and more responsibility over taking care of her stuff. She also knows that if she does something like leave a Barbie in the driveway where it gets run over, like she did last week, that’s it. We aren’t going to get her a new Barbie – she’s going to keep playing with the old one that has road rash on it’s butt because she was negligent. They’re all small building blocks, but we know in the long run they’ll help her become a person who (hopefully!) is respectful and who takes responsibility for herself and her things.

Question: How do you encourage responsibility in your home? What areas are hardest for you as a parent/spouse? What works well for you/your family?



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About Leslie

I'm Leslie. Wife. Mother. Missionary. In the day to day my husband and I are responsible for running Clean Water for Haiti, a humanitarian mission that builds and distributes water filters to Haitian families. Living in Haiti full time provides lots of stories, and as I tell my husband, our grandkids probably won't believe most of them. Maybe writing them down will give me some credibility.

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