Learning to Let Go
“LIKE arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the sons of youth,” wrote the Bible psalmist. (Psalm 127:4) An arrow does not reach its target by accident. It must be carefully aimed. In a similar way, children may not reach the goal of being responsible adults without parental direction. “Train up a boy according to the way for him,” exhorts the Bible, and “even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.”—Proverbs 22:6.
The shift from dependence in childhood to independence in adulthood cannot be made overnight. So when should parents begin to train their children to be independent? The apostle Paul reminded a young man named Timothy: “From infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through the faith in connection with Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15) Imagine, Timothy’s mother began giving him spiritual training when he was still an infant!
Now, if small infants can benefit from spiritual training, is it not reasonable that children should be given training for adulthood as soon as possible? One way to do this is to teach them to be responsible, to make their own decisions.
Teaching Children to Be Responsible
How can you encourage your children to be responsible? A married couple named Jack and Nora recalled regarding their daughter: “When she could barely walk, she learned to carry socks or small things to her bedroom and put them in the proper drawer. She also learned to put toys and books away in their places.” These are small beginnings, but already the child was learning to make responsible decisions.
As a child grows older, perhaps he or she can be entrusted with somewhat weightier responsibilities. Abra and Anita thus allowed their daughter to have a pet dog. The youngster was responsible for the dog’s care and even gave money from her own allowance for its upkeep. Training children to live up to their responsibilities requires patience. But it is worthwhile and contributes to their emotional growth.
Household chores provide another opportunity to teach children responsibility. Some parents virtually exempt their children from family duties, considering their involvement more of a nuisance than a help. Others figure that their children should ‘have it better than they had it as children.’ This is faulty reasoning. The Scriptures say: “If one is pampering one’s servant from youth on, in his later life he will even become a thankless one.” (Proverbs 29:21) The principle of this text certainly applies to children. It is sad when a youth enters adulthood not only “thankless” but also unable to handle even the simplest of domestic tasks.
Youths in Bible times were commonly assigned household chores. For example, at the tender age of 17, young Joseph shared in the responsibility of caring for the family flocks. (Genesis 37:2) This was no small assignment, since his father’s flocks were vast. (Genesis 32:13-15) In view of the fact that Joseph grew up to be a powerful leader, it is not hard to believe that this early training did much to mold his character in a positive way. The future king of Israel David was likewise entrusted with his family’s flocks as a youth.—1 Samuel 16:11.
The lesson for parents today? Assign your children meaningful household chores. With time, effort, and patience, you can teach young ones to share in cleaning, cooking, yard maintenance, and home and vehicle repair. True, much depends upon the age and ability of the child. But even small children can usually have some share in ‘helping Daddy fix the car’ or in ‘helping Mommy cook a meal.’
Teaching household chores also requires that parents give their children a most precious gift—their time. One married couple, parents of two, were asked the secret of successful child training. They replied: “Time, time, time!”
When children perform their tasks well, or at least put forth effort to do so, cheer them on with generous and sincere praise! (Compare Matthew 25:21.) Of course, children rarely perform tasks with an adult’s competence. And when children are allowed to make their own decisions, they will often make mistakes. But beware of overreacting! Have you not made your own share of mistakes as an adult? So why not show patience when your child errs? (Compare Psalm 103:13.) Allow for mistakes. View them as part of the learning process.
Authors Michael Schulman and Eva Mekler observe: “Children who are treated in a friendly manner aren’t afraid that they will be punished for taking an independent action.” However, “children of cold or harsh parents are afraid to take virtually any kind of spontaneous action, including helpful ones, because they are afraid that their parents will find some fault in what they have done and criticize or punish them.” This comment harmonizes with the Bible’s caution to parents: “Do not be exasperating your children, so that they do not become downhearted.” (Colossians 3:21) So when a child’s efforts fall short of expectations, why not praise him for at least having tried? Encourage him to do better next time. Let him know that his progress is a source of joy to you. Assure him of your love.
Of course, at times correction is necessary. This may be especially evident during the adolescent years, when young people are caught in a struggle to establish their own identity, to be accepted as individuals in their own right. Parents are therefore wise to view such attempts at achieving independence with understanding instead of always interpreting them as rebellion.
True, young ones are prone to act on impulse or to give in to “the desires incidental to youth.” (2 Timothy 2:22) So a failure to set limits on youthful behavior can damage a child emotionally; he will fail to learn self-control and self-discipline. The Bible warns: “A boy let on the loose will be causing his mother shame.” (Proverbs 29:15) But appropriate discipline, lovingly rendered, is beneficial and prepares a youth for the demands and pressures of adulthood. The Bible exhorts: “The one holding back his rod is hating his son, but the one loving him is he that does look for him with discipline.” (Proverbs 13:24) Remember, though, that the essence of discipline is teaching and training—not punishing. The “rod” here likely refers to the staff used by shepherds to direct their flocks. (Psalm 23:4) It is a symbol of loving guidance—not harsh brutality.
Education for Life
Parental guidance is particularly needed when it comes to a child’s education. Take an interest in your child’s education. Help him to choose appropriate school courses and to make a responsible decision about whether any supplementary education will be needed.a
Of course, the most important education of all is a spiritual education. (Isaiah 54:13) Children will need godly values to survive in the adult world. Their “perceptive powers” must be trained. (Hebrews 5:14) Parents can do much to help them in this regard. Families among Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to have a regular study of the Bible with their children. Following the example of Timothy’s mother, who taught him the Scriptures from infancy, Witness parents likewise teach their small children.
A single parent named Barbara makes the family study of the Bible a most pleasant experience for her children. “That evening I make sure I give the children a nice meal, complete with a dessert they enjoy. I play the Kingdom Melodies tapes to set the right mood. Then, after opening with prayer, we usually study the Watchtower magazine. But if there is some special need, I can use such publications as Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work.”b According to Barbara, studying the Bible helps her children to “get Jehovah’s view of matters.”
Yes, no greater gift can be given a child than a knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, the Bible. It can “give to the inexperienced ones shrewdness, to a young man knowledge and thinking ability.” (Proverbs 1:4) Thus armed, a young person enters adulthood capable of meeting new pressures and situations.
Even so, the departure of children signals a big change in the life-style of most parents. How they can successfully cope with the empty nest is discussed in our next article.
a See the series “Parents—You Have Homework Too!” in the September 8, 1988, issue of Awake!
b Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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“Children of cold or harsh parents are afraid to take virtually any kind of spontaneous action, including helpful ones, because they are afraid that their parents will find some fault in what they have done and criticize or punish them.”—Bringing Up a Moral Child, by Michael Schulman and Eva Mekler
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Single Parents—The Challenge of Letting Go
A single parent named Rebecca observes: “It is very hard for single parents to let their children go. If we do not watch ourselves, we tend to overprotect and smother them.” The book The Secret of Family Happiness,c pages 106-7, offers these helpful observations:
“It is natural for single parents to be especially close to their children, yet care must be taken that the God-assigned boundaries between parents and children do not break down. For example, serious difficulties can arise if a single mother expects her son to take on the responsibilities of the man of the house or treats her daughter as a confidant, burdening the girl with intimate problems. Doing so is inappropriate, stressful, and perhaps confusing to a child.
“Assure your children that you, as the parent, will care for them—not vice versa. (Compare 2 Corinthians 12:14.) At times, you may need some advice or support. Seek it from Christian elders or perhaps from mature Christian women, not from your minor children.—Titus 2:3.”
When single parents establish proper boundaries and maintain a healthy relationship with their children, it is usually easier for them to let go.
c Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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Practical training can help children to become more responsible adults
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A family study of the Bible can give children the wisdom needed to cope with adult life