In what Tom Brokaw penned “The Greatest Generation,” men and women who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II, “were united not only by a common purpose, but also by common values—duty, honor, economy, courage, service, love of family and country, and, above all, responsibility for oneself.”
Responsibility for oneself was a ‘given.’ The approach to raising children during the early 1900’s was quite different than it is for the present generation.
Hard work was not something reserved for the lower class. It was a way of life for most Americans.
My own father quit school in the eighth grade to pick cotton on the family farm. His father, the son of an Irish immigrant, was orphaned and made his own way in the world of west Texas. Ultimately he owned two cotton gins. He fathered ten children; eight survived infancy.
I remember clearly how surprised my parents were when he gave me a dime once as a very young girl. He may not have been a generous man, but he gave us all a heritage that is priceless. There were never any expectations for the world to supply their needs.
All eight of the Cawley children grew up to be responsible adults, some plant managers, others ranchers, and independent businessmen.
The wives whom married them took care of business. My dad became a master machinist who helped my brother establish a highly successful business.
Only the youngest was able to attend college and he did extremely well for himself and his family.
Instilling a sense of responsibility in children is one of the priceless gifts you can give as a parent. Being responsible for themselves increases their sense of independence. It builds an internal sense of motivation and it develops genuine, not the false sense of our era, self-worth.
Teaching responsibility may be more difficult in today’s world than it was for The Greatest Generation simply because it isn’t always part of our culture.
It can be done
Once in a while I notice parents who have their priorities in order and their children are examples of what we all ought to be doing. Parenting doesn’t provide instant results. Though we must wait many long years before the final outcome, the wait is worth the effort.
To develop responsibility for one’s self in your children choose tasks that are age appropriate. There are lots of opinions about what is age appropriate.
Just look on the Internet and you can read all about when to allow your child to ride the subway home alone. Every community is different with different risks.
We know when a child is supposed to be potty trained because the day care tells us when they will no longer allow the diapers. Do we know when to expect a child to take his plate from the table to the kitchen? Do we know when we expect the child to brush her own teeth? Do we know when to expect him to put on his own shoes?
This answer is simple—when he is able to do so. It’s the age-old adage, “Never do for the child what he/she can do for himself/herself.” According to Rudolf Dreikurs, M.D. in Children: the Challenge, “Doing for a child what he can do for himself is extremely discouraging, since it deprives him of the opportunity to experience his own strength.”
Children with an internal sense of motivation make excellent students and successful adults.
Real-world appropriate tasks will develop a sense of confidence in the child. “I can open the door for the lady carrying a load of packages out the store.” “I can shake hands when I meet someone.” “I can bring in the newspaper.” “I can clean up the bathroom when I finish.”
Each time a child accomplishes a task it builds “I can do it” mentality. On every occasion they increase their sense of independence. Parents who create healthy homes know their children and provide opportunities for them to grow into mature and responsible adults. Children need to feel safe in the family. They should feel safe enough to come to their parents when they need help or are in a crisis.
While it is true that you shouldn’t overdo for your children and you shouldn’t protect them from failure or solve all their problems, if a safe environment exists in the home children will know they can come to you with problems like difficulties in school, being bullied, pregnancy, or issues with the law.
It is likely they will have fewer crises since they will have a sense of self-worth that often prevents young people from getting into problematic situations.
By creating a consistency in your approach they will know you love them. The trust they have for you will make it easier for them to be the independent and productive adults which is really the dream you have for them after all.
Gail Cawley Showalter of Nederland is a certified professional coach and director of Bridges of Hope for Single Moms