Central Baptist Church of Southington Connecticut

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Responsible Independence

  • Jim Townsley
  • Mar 18, 2008
  • Series: A Heart for the Home
Excerpts from Pastor Townsley's book A Heart for the Home

Chapter Twelve — Responsible Independence

Autonomous Children

Another possible title to this chapter could be "autonomous children." Preachers often use the word autonomous when speaking about church planting or missions, indicating every new church eventually should become self-supporting and self-governing. Just as a church should become self-supporting, our children also should become self-supporting and self-governing. I've often said there is only one thing worse than having your children grow up and leave home, and that is for your children to grow up and not leave home. One day your children will probably lave the confines of your home, but the question will be,are they ready?

A controlled environment offers the opportunity for children to face challenges monitored by their parents. Allowing children the freedom of failure in controlled circumstances is far better than helplessly standing by and watching them later suffer dire consequences for wrong decisions. No child will ever achieve maturity without making mistakes. Protecting children from all failure does great harm, because we learn our greatest lessons through failure. The key to teaching responsibility is to offer the right opportunities at the right time. It would be improper to allow a drug dealer access to your child. However you might want to allow a neighborhood friend who doesn't share your beliefs to have some contact with your child, to help your child learn that not everyone believes the same things you believe. Monitoring such a situation may offer an opportunity to teach your child why your beliefs are superior and should be followed. Our oldest son developed a friendship with another Christian boy who didn't live by the same principles we live by. After visiting this boy's home a few times our son realized some serious problems existed in that boy's home. Several positive conversations developed from that experience that helped form some important decision in our son's life.

Facing adversity, and even failure, can provide necessary character lessons. In high school I played on a basketball team that had a losing record. Losing is never fun, and this was no exception. As I look back on that experience I realize how many learning experiences it provided. Among other things, I learned humility, the importance of teamwork, and distaste for failure. Wise parents will provide the right opportunities so that their children's mistakes will build character and not destroy them.

Responsibility Must Be Taught

"Don't do that! You can't have that! I said no!" Phrases such as these are necessary to teach restraint and discipline and are essential to training children. However, the "don'ts" and warnings are only half of the equation. Teaching character involves more than restricting children from danger. By the time children reach maturity they must learn to make decisions for themselves. Someday your teen will ask to go somewhere, see someone, or do something that will require sound judgment. Generally, parents are given eighteen years to prepare their children for that moment. The process of good decision-making involves learning through years of experience. Wise parents who understand this will take advantage of opportunities early in their children's lives, when they can control the decision-making situations. At the point of a child's birth his parents should have the foresight to realize that someday this infant will be making decisions about college, marriage, an occupation, friends, music, church, etc.

Only after becoming a parent did I recognize that many of the things my father taught me were things he knew would benefit me. Following my father's lead, I decided I needed to think of ways I could teach my children responsibility in controlled environments. Learning honesty, hard work, frugality, endurance, and strength are all benefits of this type of learning. Every child must learn that life is full of limits. Many young people have ruined their lives because they followed the wrong crowd and participated in the wrong things. Parents must accept the responsibility of training and monitoring every detail of their children's lives. Choosing the right friends is extremely important, as is proper etiquette, proper dress, and pleasant speech. Children are dependent on their parents for guidance, because they lack the life experiences that parents gave gained. Lessons concerning responsibility will instill character in a child. "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).

"Honey, keep junior away while I try to fix the faucet." "Honey keep little Sally out of the kitchen while I try to prepare dinner." Perhaps you have made similar statements. Children can get in the way, and at times certain activities are inappropriate for them. Similarly, children can make some tasks more difficult, so we tend to remove them from the activity to make our life easier. The question that must be asked is, "When do we train children?" Must there be a classroom situation before they can learn, or can children learn from life's everyday activities? I'm reminded of the science teacher who called the children in from recess and reminded Johnny that he must return the frog to the pond and come to science class immediately. The teacher missed the opportunity to teach through everyday life situations. Little boys can learn to hold the wrenches for their dad and to be a helper while he works. Children can be an annoyance, and they make life more difficult, but we must utilize these daily opportunities to teach them. Baking cookies can be a messy task, and involving small children can make a huge mess. But, again the parent's job is to involve the child and teach her to not be messy. This type of teaching makes life more difficult, but the opportunities to allow your children the privilege of making mistakes under your watchful eye provides the opportunity to correct them while they are gaining confidence in learning the task. Recently my two oldest grandchildren and I decided to make an apple pie. When we finished flour and sugar were everywhere, but we had a great time. They are not yet prepared to bake on their own, but they did learn a little bit of responsibility. The pie tasted great, but my wife's slice contained a plastic bag tie that somehow was sneaked into apples.

Many years ago a teenage boy was informed his father was moving out of the house and seeking a divorce form his mother. Such news is tragic to anyone, and especially to a teenager. To my surprise the teen's only response was, "Dad isn't taking the TV with him, is he?" Unfortunately, this father had largely ignored his child. I recall another couple who complained they couldn't discipline their child because he had no interest in anything so they had nothing to take away from him. Evidently, the child's only activity was to move from the TV to the refrigerator. Parents must encourage children from an early age to find good and wholesome interests. Music, sports, hunting, fishing, landscaping, gardening, reading, art, and many other hobbies are all necessary for the child to learn and enjoy. Although children possess few abilities at birth, parents who are willing to take the time can train them to become proficient and helpful.

How do you find tasks to help train children about responsibility? You can have them clean their room and take out the trash, but that's not enough. Try to find your child's interests and build on them. Just because you liked sports doesn't mean all of your children will love sports. You may be studious, but your child may be more vocational. Some children are task-oriented and some are people-oriented. As a parent you must learn your children's personalities and interests. Everyone must learn to clean their room and do their homework, but not everyone will enjoy playing the violin or learning woodworking. Observe your children while they're young and begin to learn their interests. If a child has musical ability, perhaps music lessons are in order. If the child responds well to the lessons, then continue those lessons. If a child enjoys sports, then provide opportunities for them to participate in a controlled environment. A child's good interests should be encouraged and guided. Training should involve finding role models. I remember my father pointing out to me a basketball player I should emulate. My father taught me to be generous by giving me fifty cents right before the offering and then telling me I could do whatever I wanted with the money. I felt proud to place that money in the offering. I knew I was pleasing my parents, and of course the Lord, by doing so. Too often these situations never occur, because a parents' control is so overwhelming a child never is allowed to make a decision. Parents must provide opportunities to learn how to handle money, deal with people, face obstacles and even how to deal with failure.

If it Doesn't Kill You, it Makes You Stronger

I am not suggesting parents jeopardize their children's safety. Every loving parent should seek to protect their child from danger. However, we can also succumb to the hidden danger of overprotection. Children get dirty, make mistakes, get hurt, and suffer the consequences of their mistakes. Too much pampering is detrimental to their well-being. Little boys should learn to walk like a man and talk like a man. Little girls must learn to act like a lady, talk like a lady, and walk like a lady. Cleaning house, cooking, and homemaking are duties girls need to know how to do. Boys need to realize the high cost of providing for a family. They also need to learn to help with chores around the house. Every young man must learn how to work; to develop blisters and bruises. When it snows, dad should teach junior how to shovel the snow. I remember the time my cousin drained the transmission of his father's car and added five quarts of oil. It was a costly mistake, and my cousin never repeated it. The time required to teach basic skills is well worth the effort.

The story of Abraham Lincoln is a testimony of a man learning from failure until he achieved the highest office in the land, President of the United States. Mr. Lincoln was born into a family of no fame or fortune. When Abe was nine, his mother died, so he was raised by his stepmother. As an adult, Lincoln ran for Congress and lost. The village store he worked in went out of business. Lincoln and his partner, William Berry, purchased another village store in New Salem. That store also failed, leaving Lincoln in deep debt. Then, when William Berry died, Lincoln's debt rose to $1,000 (a heavy financial burden for that time.) Ann Rutledge, a young woman whom Lincoln loved and admired, died from a fever, though later he did marry. Then Lincoln lost another election for Congress, and soon after his son Edward died. Then Lincoln lost an election for the Illinois legislature. Finally (and providentially), in 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected as America's 16th president (and the first Republican). Abraham Lincoln's trials contributed to his greatness. We must not fear struggle; it will strengthen us.