4 Essentials: Raising a Well-Developed Child.
Part one: Chores and Family Time
That awful insecurity still rises up in me now and then. It's ugly. My mid-forties, how is this possible?! Well, for starters, my non-pregnant belly is starting to appear three moths pregnant for no reason, my hair decided to add some contrast with a few gray strands on display, and my energy level looks more like that of a turtle taking its sweet time crossing the road. Looking back, I was thankful to exit my 20’s and start living out the rest of my years a free spirit. No need for affirmation. Who cares what I wear, and if I put on any make-up? And in a lot of ways it is true. I feel less pressured by the unrealistic expectations of the polished culture I live in. The good thing is, I don’t care so much anymore about the meaningless things. And, the less I am connected to Social Media, the less insecurity spikes. And the less I am on Social Media, the more satisfying the days.
Oh I hope the kids today can scoot through those years of insecurity and arrive in their 30’s with confidence and renewed value system. The fear is that adolescents will extend adolescence well into adulthood. We adults must wave our flags of caution.
I used to tell my students all the time:
“Maturity does not come with age.”
I observe ladies my age and older who are stuck in the instability of youth. Adults who live on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, always checking the number of “likes.” Flirting, getting plastic surgery, terrified of aging. It’s a natural temptation for all of us. Social Media has stunted development. Maturity requires intentional hard work. Narcissism and the daunting obsession with affirmation will choke out wisdom and grace. Maturity could soon be a lost art.
Over the years I have read lots of research and observed teenagers in the prime of their identity formation. What channels a kid to grow up and grow mature? What develops an internal sense of self, peace and purpose? The list is long. But for the sake of a blog post, or two, I have narrowed it down to four things. Here are the first two essentials:
1. Chores: It’s always easier to do it ourselves. It’s faster, done better, and complete. Busyness, overbooked schedules, "too much homework"…we remove it from the expectations we have on our kids. “They need to concentrate on school, that’s their “job” right now.” All of these responses make sense. To a degree, they are valid. But something gets lost that can’t so easily be found. Chores do a few necessary things. First, they suffocate narcissism which, let’s be honest, we all want suffocated. When I have to take the trash out, clean the bathroom, or do the dishes, I know I am not the center of the universe. I know I am not here to be served, but to participate in what it takes to run a household. All hands on deck means it’s not just one person’s job to make the world function. Secondly, chores build connection and attachment. I am part of a larger community. We need each other. I lift someone else’s burden and I have someone else helping me. We are in this together. And thirdly, chores instill confidence. Anxiety is becoming all too common. In part, kids flounder doing some basic things. Life skills help us when we go out into the world, to college, to a friend’s house. Laundry? No problem. Dishes? No problem. Cleaning a bathroom? No problem. Taking a package to the Post Office? No problem. Mowing the lawn? No problem. Without these experiences kids don’t know how to problem solve. They feel overwhelmed with the basic responsibilities of life. They feel insecure. We adults do no service to our kids when we do everything for them. Though grades and study skills are important, adulthood requires so much more than a solid GPA. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I have ever once been asked about my grades after high school.
2. Family time: Our cell phones keep us from conversing and looking each other in the eye. Heads down, missing each other’s questions, having to repeat what we just said, partial attention 90% of the time, divided and not present. Tech-free space is essential. The times spent as a family, connecting, talking, and building memories must be without technology.
Unfortunately adults can be the worst examples of this. It must start with us getting control of our own tendency for distraction. Secondly, we need to have conversations with our kids about technology and it’s place in the order of things. The internet should never take priority over face-to-face interactions. Family meals, games, sitting around a fire pit, baking cookies, taking hikes, riding bikes, asking questions (whether our kids seem annoyed or not!). These times attach a family together. And attachment will grow the internal security that leads to maturity. The desperation for affirmation doesn’t have the same hold on a child who grew up in a family where attachment is strong. Your kids may not want to participate, or they will ask to bring a few friends. Resist the temptation to give in. Making them go will do a work internally you have to trust is taking place. If friends are there, they will bond with them instead of you. They will be distracted with the approval of peers instead of relaxing within the safety of family. Whether in the car, at the dinner table, or on a hike, explain the need to put the phones down. And you can put it down too. You will experience something you haven’t felt for awhile. One day, they will thank you for it. Trust the work going on that you can’t see.
There are no silver bullets. And the most necessary thing is prayer. God is aware of our needs. He knows what will trip up our kids and he will not waste a thing. Even the thing we may be tempted to believe will destroy those we love. He is a wellspring. One thing I am learning, he wants us to call on him, lean into him, resource him…the connection with God is the goal, not the particular answers we hope for. This is where we will find peace, in our own attachment to God himself. This is the best gift you can give to your children, trusting God with their lives.
Next Week- Part 2: Two more essentials to the healthy development of your child...