Something’s in the air! Right as I was writing this post, a good friend of mine asked on Facebook about raising independent children. Jewish tradition calls for a bar or bat mitzvah to signal turning the corner from childhood to adulthood, and they’re onto something. How do you move a child from being a little kid to a big kid to a young adult to a full-on adult ready to raise their own kids?
Parenting kids means getting them ready to move onto the next phase of life. I mean, we love our kids, but we need them to leave when it’s time! Cleave on your own time, buddy, but you gotta LEAVE! God can’t do everything with their lives if they never launch, and they’ll never be happy as adults until they feel independent and fully functioning. So, how do get them from here to there?
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We’re Not REALLY Raising Kids
Here’s the thing. We have kids, but we’re actually raising adults. We’re raising someone’s husband, wife, mother, father, friend, or employee. We’re raising college students, missionaries, entrepreneurs, mentors, activists, or evangelists.
Look at your child today, and know this: That’s the same person who will be a teenager, and an adult. Your child doesn’t morph into new people; your child grows into himself at each stage. So, who that is depends largely on what you do today. Yikes, right?
Getting from A to B
It seems simplistic, but do this–think about what they need to look like when they leave your home. Then work backwards. Want them to do their own laundry instead of dragging it back to you in a garbage bag every week (or once a month, if it’s a boy)? Then it’s your job to teach them to do their own laundry. Want them to manage their money instead of calling you in a panic because they’ve run out, and They’ve maxed out their credit card (where’d they even get that?!?) Then, news flash–it’s your job to teach them to handle money while they’re still at home.
This model is biblical to the core. Throughout the Bible, parents are exhorted to look after the instruction of their children, in life and righteousness. Here’s an example:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. Titus 2:3-8
(Let me make a quick plug for a book you should take a look at. It’s Kay Wills Wyma’s Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement. She takes one skill area per month, and tells you how to teach it to your kids so they get it. She covers things like cooking, party planning, laundry, and yard work. And she’s entertaining. Check it out!)
We’ve told our kids that by their senior year of high school, the goal is for them to be living pretty independently. They’ll live here, eat dinner here, and do family things, but they’ll be handling their own lives. They’ll be paying their own bills, making their own doctor appointments…and getting there…and filling and picking up their own prescriptions. They’ll be doing their own laundry, shopping and cooking, gift shopping, etc. To me, imagining that as a reality makes me feel all warm inside. Because if we get there, I won’t worry nearly as much when I drive off after dropping them off at college. But we have to do our job first.
- Spoiling your kids is doing things for them that they can do themselves. Ask yourself along the way, “Is this something she can do herself?”
- Be sure to praise their work, even if it’s not up to your standards. You’re reinforcing your appreciation for their help, their ability to help, and their value in the family. Don’t redo something they’ve done!
- Don’t split these things up as boy skills and girl skills. Young adults need to know how to cover all their bases when they leave home. Sure, once they’re married, they may not have to do all of them. But they should know how. Think of it as an early wedding present to your child’s future marriage.
- Kids want to be more grown up, starting as early as toddlerhood. You don’t have to rush the growing-up to use this desire for good.
Being more grown up isn’t all about having more freedom or doing “grown-up” things. It’s about becoming more mature.
From middle school on, look for opportunities to build your child up as a young man or a young woman. Encourage them to feel more mature, more responsible, and excited about moving toward becoming the man or woman God has in mind. Say things like, “You are such a big help to me. You’re going to be a great worker for your own family some day,” or, “You did great at the grocery store today! Having you with me is so much better than doing it all on my own.”
Breaking It Down
Let’s look at these skills by category. I didn’t break them out by age, so use your best judgment. A lot of these will build over time, so just be sure you are taking your hands off the wheel bit by bit. When you add a skill or responsibility, expect a transition phase while they’re learning. You may need to adjust, and that’s okay. (Note: Kids can almost always handle more than we think they can.)
Let’s start with household skills and responsibilities. Kids are home a lot, so it’s a built-in training ground. Teach them early that everyone helps at home, and everyone has value. They might be little, but they’re still needed. Get that nailed down early, and you’ve gone a long way to avoiding entitlement.
She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness. Proverbs 31:27
- Keeping their room neat (and playroom, if they have one; and other parts of the house where they’ve been)
- Sweeping (Start with the front or back porch, and when they get better, move it inside.)
- Dusting (start with a piece of furniture without breakables!)
- Vacuuming (Start with a rug or hallway.)
- Mopping (If you have something like a Swiffer, start there. The less water, the better at first!)
- Grocery shopping, eventually including price comparison and coupons (A lot of stores have kid-size shopping carts. It will slow you down until they’re older, but if you have the time and patience, let them get a cart and put things in it. Eventually, give them part of the list to take care of on their own, and then the whole list.)
- Meal prep (Start with non-cooking tasks like putting a snack in a bowl or gently mixing veggies into the salad, then add skills as they’re ready. Eventually, they’ll cook meat, use the oven, use knives, and plan entire meals.)
- Yard care (Start with picking up trash or clutter, or pulling easy weeds. Add other skills like mowing, trimming, and planting.)
- Laundry (Start with having them put a few things in the machine. Move to sorting, folding/hanging/putting away, and completing the whole process without even being reminded.)
- Dishes (Start with putting a few plastic things in the dishwasher, or drying plastic pieces. Move up to loading and unloading the dishwasher, hand washing, and running cleaning cycles on the dishwasher.)
- Home repairs (A great entry point on this is changing out light bulbs in lamps once they are able to do that carefully. As they get older, get in the habit of bringing them alongside you every time you have a repair of some kind to do.)
- Hygiene (This can be harder than we’d like because little kids are reluctant to bring up their game when they hit puberty. But they have to take care of this stuff without being told to do it. They have to!)
- Doctors and dentists (I’ve encouraged my kids since they were little to listen when the doctor talks, and to ask questions. As they get older, I’m pushing more independence in this area. Have them ask the questions and look at X-rays, diagrams, etc. Sometimes, doctors answer questions looking at you, even if your child asked the question. If you keep looking at your child instead of making eye contact with the doctor, the doctor will go back to looking at your child. Eventually, we want our kids making their own appointments and going to them on their own.)
- Specialists (If you’ve got a good relationship with your child, he should know to talk to you about medical or psychological concerns. About a year ago, I suggested a specialist for my daughter for something. I found about five doctors I approved, and then had her choose her own doctor. We had some great discussions around that.)
Be sure you’re teaching your child the skills to watch out for himself out in the world and online. Keep it age-appropriate and relevant to what they’re actually doing. But you won’t always be there to guard your child against the world, so teach them to be “crafty as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). How do you want your daughter to get safely from the library at college back to her dorm? How do you want your son to navigate the online world?
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8
- Allowance (This is a house-to-house decision, but I recommend having some sort of money your child manages. Talk about spending, saving, and giving. The easiest thing for kids is spending, right? The second easiest for young kids is giving. Strike while the iron is hot. There are all kinds of fun banks and systems to teach them to separate their money instead of chucking it all in one place and spending it on themselves. Dave Ramsey has a fantastic tool, Financial Peace Junior Kit, that we used and loved with both of our kids. “Start as you mean to go on” really works in this area!)
- Spending (My daughter used to want to spend cash as fast as she got it. In time, she saw that those things she had to buy ended up tossed aside. A good question when they ask to go to a store is, “Is there something specific you want, or are you looking for something to buy?” Try not take over. The stakes are low, so this is the perfect time for them to learn by experience. At some point, when there’s something they want, and there’s no money because they frittered it away, lovingly explain that. But don’t bail them out!)
- Saving (At some point when they’re little, they’ll want something, and want it bad. Great! Show them how to check the price, and make a chart to save up for it. Let them mark it off or color it in, dollar by dollar. They get excited about saving. If you want, give extra work to earn extra money. But only after they’ve finished their regular chore. When they have the money saved up, let them take the item off the shelf at the store and to the cashier. Big pay-off. When they get older, keep saving as part of their money landscape. Both of our kids had to save up a significant amount to help pay for their step-up musical instruments in middle school. Instruments are expensive! Requiring them to cover part of it not only legitimately helped us, but the kids also have some skin in the game. And a real sense of accomplishment. And here’s the point: They know how to save money, which is a critical life skill!)
- Banking (When they’re 10 or so, look into banking accounts. Our bank set both of my kids up with “teen” accounts before they were teens. They have checking and saving accounts, complete with debit cards. This has been phenomenal in getting money out of their hot little hands and out of sight, even though it’s still theirs. They’ve also learned that cards are attached to actual money… that they earned. They’ve learned that once it’s gone, it’s gone. They’ve also learned how to deposit money, check balances online, and move it online. The other thing is that I can easily transfer their allowance right into their savings accounts. Direct deposit! All of this stuff looks like it will look when they are out and on their own, and they will already know how to take care of it.)
- Credit (Avoid credit! When the kids were little and wanted something they didn’t have money for, they’d inevitably ask me if they could pay me back. Not a chance! I’d say, “I’m not a credit card, sorry. But you can save up, and I’ll bring you right back to get it.” Teach them that you only buy things you can afford. When they get older, you may want them to have an emergency credit card. That needs to be the subject of a dedicated conversation. Using some really simple math, show them how long it takes to pay off a credit card. Loans are a different conversation.)
And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave. Proverbs 22:7b
- Coupons (Start with grocery coupons for the things they like, like snack crackers or a favorite cereal. Let your kiddo hold them and give them to the cashier. When they get older, show them how much they saved. That’s actual money in your account that would have been gone. Think about coupons other places, too. My son once wanted a circuit set at Hobby Lobby. He had the money for it, but when I had him use the 40% off coupon from the app, he saw how much he saved. He was thrilled!)
- Bills (By the time your child is a teen, they should have at least one bill they’re covering. One of the conditions of our kids getting phones was that they had to pay for the monthly insurance. I think it’s all of $10, but it’s a bill. My daughter also subscribes to a monthly make-up club. She set it all up herself, so the money comes out of her checking account, and she set it up so the money transfers from her savings account in time for the payment. She’s 15. Will she be able to handle online bill pay? Yep.)
- Work (I highly recommend supporting kids who want to start up a business like petsitting, lawn mowing, babysitting, etc. Something seasonal might be a good way to test the waters. Think outside the box, too. Both of my kids petsit, and my son has started lawn mowing. Doing this teaches responsibility, follow through, working with clients, and making money beyond allowances and birthday money!)
For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 2 Thessalonians 3:10
- Calendar (Around middle school, your child should keep track of what’s going on in his weekly schedule. Most kids prefer to use their phones, but some like a paper calendar or a white board. Experiment. Don’t expect them to stay on top of it for a while, but start to get them used to the idea that life has a schedule. When they get older and want to do things, push it back and ask them to look at their schedule to see if they can.)
- Limits (From about middle school on, make your child aware of his “busy-ness” threshold. My son doesn’t do well when he has something going on almost every night of the week. He needs more margin. So, we’ve talked about that, and when he wants to take on something new, he has to think about it in that context. And then the commitment is his, not one we made for him. So I don’t rescue him because he’s overcommitted if it was in his hands. Of course, these are things that run seasonally, not long-term. My daughter recently wanted a job, so we had her think about how much time she realistically has for that. She was able to find one that fits her schedule so she doesn’t end up underwater. And by the way, she filled out all her own paperwork!)
- Start early getting your kids to help you decide what to get for gifts for members of the family. Encourage them to make something or spend a little of their own money. This gives them the experience of giving a gift that is more than a gesture. By the time they’re teens, they can decide, shop, and pay for gifts all on their own.
- In related news, show them how to wrap a gift. Obviously, gift bags and tissue are the easiest place to start, but by middle school or high school, they can wrap their own gifts.
- Get a load of this, moms. Your middle schooler can pump your gas for you. My son actually likes it! Just be patient the first few times walking them through the process, and then enjoy the full-service stops!
- Have older kids take the lead on talking to the people when your car needs an oil change, inspection, or other services. When you have to make a decision, have them listen in so they learn what questions to ask. Once they have a car, they should be able to handle most of this, although you’ll still be there most of the time.
- When your kid starts driving, she should cover some of the expense. It might be helping pay for the car, or insurance, or gas. Remember, when they’re out on their own, they’ll be responsible for all of that, so get them used to it.
One Last Thing: Middle School’s Unique Redeeming Quality
Before I wrap this up, I have one more nugget for you. This is about middle school, which is a beat-down, pretty much for everyone. Socially, it’s a a labyrinth of land mines, and physically, it’s a hormone pinata. But, there’s one thing middle school is perfect for, and that is…figuring things out. Let me explain. We’ve given both of our kiddos this speech, and now it’s your turn. (FYI, middle school for us is 6th-8th grade.)
“The difference between 5th grade and 9th grade is massive. In every way, they are different planets. The bridge from one to the other is middle school. You have three years to figure things out–how to stay organized, how you study best on your own, how you work best with a group, how you want to track your grades and your assignments, how you’re going to pick good friends, and how to manage your schedule.
You’re going to get yourself up in the morning, or you’re going to get hit with a tardy. You’re going to be sure you have everything you need. You’re going to handle your lunch. If something needs a parent signature, you bring it to me. It’s harder than what you’re used to, but you can do it. You’re not going to ‘get it’ right away, and we’ll hang back while you figure it out. But ask for help when you need it. You’re going to fall sometimes, but that’s okay. Just keep trying until you figure it out.
Because when you get to 9th grade, we’re going to care about your grades and your school more than we’ve ever cared. Those grades matter. They’re going to be looked at by people you want to impress. Being able to take care of yourself is a huge part of your success in high school. If you want help, just ask. But you have between now and the first day of high school to figure it out.”
And that’s the “it’s time to grow up” speech for middle school!
You May Also Want to Read–
I wrote a follow-up post to this about raising kids who can manage relationships independently, and responsibly!
AND I put together a resource list with lots of ideas and links to make this whole thing easier (and more fun).
I’ve thrown a lot at you, and there’s WAY more that could be said on this issue. Please chime in and tell us your advice and experience. What has worked, and what hasn’t? Moms with older kids, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
(This post doesn’t cover a MAJOR area where our kids need independence as adults, and that’s their spiritual lives. That’s a subject for another post, and if I’m being transparent, I’m not sure I’m equipped to write it yet. In any case, it deserves its own post. But boy, would I love to hear what you have to say on that!)