While it is true that rewards and punishments are an important part of bringing kids up, it would not be right to boil such a complicated process down to material things (you can read about five things you owe your kids here). Interaction with kids involves much, much more. Teaching kids how to be good, kind, hard-working people will be a difficult task, but there are several things that we need to make sure to relay to the future generation. I really like the list that Curt Williams of Youth-Reach Houston suggested during the second session of his Resolutions Parenting seminar a couple of weeks ago.
This is a summary of what kids need to hear in the home if you do not have time to read this whole post:
1. My love for you is unconditional, but my blessings are absolutely conditional.
2. I love you, but I love your father/mother more. Do not get between us, as it will not turn out well for you.
3. I am not your friend; you will have many friends. I am your parent, which is a much higher calling than being just your friend.
4. I am not fair. Life is not fair. It would be good if you would just realize this and get over it.
5. It is my job and my intention to create in you a great work ethic. This will be a difficult process for you.
6. My world does not revolve around you, and if it did, you would turn out pretty messed up.
7. If you grow up to be simply religious, I did not do my job well. I hope to introduce you to the simple and deep joy of knowing Christ.
And here is the extended version if you are really interested in what I think about all this.
1. My love for you is unconditional, but my blessings are absolutely conditional. - This point is talking about not mixing love and rewards. Showing kids that you love them unconditionally is very important, but not necessarily with material things. Spending time, playing games, and being affectionate are all great ways of expressing your love for your kids and, in my opinion, are more meaningful than giving gifts. Some modern parents prefer to give an iPad or a smart phone to their kids to play with instead of spending some quality time with them. Technology is great, of course, but it should not be a substitute to real parent/child interaction. And, once again, children should understand that even when you spank them or take away their toys/gadgets (blessings) in order to discipline, you still love them and are doing it for their own good.
2. I love you, but I love your father/mother more. Do not get between us, as it will not turn out well for you. - Not every parent understands the importance of this truth until problems arise. Women tend to love kids more because of the bonding during pregnancy and, generally, spending more time with the children while taking care of them. I can see how the husband can get moved to the second place in the list of the mother's priorities, especially if he is not helping much. I believe it is important for mothers and fathers to remember that they married their spouses first, and the children are a result of that love. Children will grow and leave, and you will stay with your spouse. Instead, show your children how important your spouse is. Go on dates, kiss and hug, make jokes. Kids will not feel jealous; on the contrary, they will be proud of how their parents love each other and will learn about a healthy married relationship early on. I love this one, but I definitely see how it can be a problem in our family, mainly due to cultural differences. In Russia, women almost always put their children on the first place; it is just something we are accustomed to do. Additionally, parents should not threaten children with phrases like, "Wait until your father/mother gets home!" It puts the second parent into bad light. You and your spouse are a team, and there is no need to play good cop/bad cop with your children.
3. I am not your friend; you will have many friends. I am your parent, which is a much higher calling than being just your friend. - Some parents try too hard to be buddies with their kids and fit in with the young crowd. It is not wrong to try and be young, except when parents get ridiculous about it. For example, Curt shared about a father and a son he had see at the mall. The father (quite overweight) was wearing skinny jeans and a tight shirt, trying to look "cool." His son was walking far away from him, hoping no one would associate the two. The kid was embarrassed of his Dad! This sounds like a nightmare to me. Of course, being a trustworthy source of wisdom for your children is important, but so is not crossing the line between being a parent and a buddy to your child. My Mom has become my best friend (aside from my husband) once I got older, which is wonderful. However, when my sister and I were younger, my mother was definitely a mother first, teaching us about life and not always being fair (as we thought then). Speaking of being unfair, read on.
4. I am not fair. Life is not fair. It would be good if you would just realize this and get over it. - Do you remember telling "But that's not fair!" to your parents, with tears in your eyes and all the sorrows of the world on your face? Whatever it was, your parents did not treat you "fair," and praise the Lord for that! It was for our own good. Truth is, at that age, we did not know what was good for us. Not letting kids smoke or stay out late while other kids may be allowed to do that can feel unfair to the children, but parents surely know that it is better that way. Speaking honestly, nobody wants to be treated fairly if you think about it. When we make mistakes, don't we want to be forgiven and given another chance instead of bearing punishment? For all of our sins, we deserve to live a horrible life, die a terrible death, and burn in hell forever. Harsh, but true. Therefore, we do not want to be treated fairly; we want to have forgiveness we do not deserve. And Jesus Christ brings it to us. Living a perfect life that we can never live and dying a terrible death for our sins did just that - brought us His salvation. We are blessed to be treated unfairly!
A couple of ways to treat your children "unfairly" for their own benefit (that are absolutely normal):
- Raising boys differently from girls
- Saying no to one child when you allowed the same thing to another
I believe that you know your kids and know what is better for them. Teaching them that life is not fair will prepare them for the ruthless reality they will have to face later.
5. It is my job and my intention to create in you a great work ethic. This will be a difficult process for you. - Do your kids know how to cook? Or to iron? How about washing dishes? There might be crock pots and dishwashers in your house, but besides making your life easier, they rob your kids of useful skills. The children may not be washing dishes and cooking for living, but doing chores and learning how to work will definitely be useful for their future. Start early and ask you kids to help around the house. It will teach them work ethic and provide invaluable time spent together.
Allowance has been a controversial topic, and I have heard many different opinions. I am not sure what will work for us, but I agree with Curt's idea of not paying kids for doing nothing. This way, children would feel entitled to getting money without working for it. Instead, pay them for extra jobs that go beyond the usual chores, like cleaning the garage or mowing the lawn. Earned money will be so much more cherished! We have recently seen a news episode about a 6-year old boy who gets paid for picking up his neighbors' trash. That is how he gets money his toys. Brilliant!
6. My world does not revolve around you, and if it did, you would turn out pretty messed up. - During this parenting session, Curt Williams shared about a car sticker he had seen before, which read, "You are special and unique, just like everybody else." I think it summarizes the world we live in pretty well. Almost everyone is told as a child that they are special in a unique way. Individualism is imposed from a very early age, until the kid grows up, graduates, and goes into real world. Even speeches during graduation are full of inspiring promises that students will go and become anything they want. Reality is, not everyone will even work in the line of their profession, for one reason or another. Only exceptions will change the world and become Bill Gateses and Steve Jobses. Funny that both last names end with "s." Maybe that is the secret of being successful. Majority will get an okay job, work from 8 to 5, get married, buy a big TV, get kids and maybe a dog or two. That is the best scenario, and it is a trivial one. I am not saying that people cannot be happy living this kind of life. It is possible, absolutely, but only when we cherish right things. Kindness, love, service, and helping others are so much more important and rewarding than buying another gadget or toy. Teaching kids to be servant-minded instead of self-centered is essential to their happiness. Material things can satisfy at first, but they never lead to the true joy in life. Taking them to other countries to understand human suffering will change their view of life and will teach them what really matters.
7. If you grow up to be simply religious, I did not do my job well. I hope to introduce you to the simple and deep joy of knowing Christ. - I see how simply taking your kids to church every Sunday and saying Grace before the meal just because those are customs may not lead them to faith. Those things may become just something you do because others do that. Like doing the dishes or washing your hands before dinner, for example. It does not have much meaning to it. Moreover, after time, kids may start hating church and everything connected with religion just because it is their parents' way. Religion is by no means equal to faith, and teaching religion to kids as a system of traditions may divert them from the real thing. Invading young minds with dead religion is like vaccinating them against a disease. When they encounter true faith, they may reject it because they will not know the difference between the two. Let me try to explain my point further with a simple real life example that many people can probably sympathize with: weight loss. If you want to lose weight, you've got to have right motivation. Losing pounds to fit into a wedding dress may be quite powerful in the short run, but it probably will not keep that weight away for too long after the big day. The key to a successful weight loss is right motivation, or things that really matter, like staying healthy to be able to play with your kids and grandkids. When something bigger is at stake, it tends to keep us on track longer. The same with being a kind, loving, Christ-like person: only a deep belief of doing good for other people because of our Lord being kind to us will keep your fire of kindness and compassion burning. When you understand that you are never alone, never forsaken, and never have to deal with things that are out of your control by yourself, life changes. That is the difference between teaching your kids religion and teaching them how to have the most wonderful relationship in the world - a relationship with our Savior.
We are very excited to teach our future kids all (or some) of these truths, however hard it may be. Growing kids is a huge responsibility, so help us God!