How To Raise Self-Reliant Kids

My wife and I were rushing the kids out the door for school this morning and one of my worst parenting fears was “triggered”. While all his siblings were climbing into the car, one of my sons came stumbling out of the laundry room. His backpack was haphazardly draped over his shoulder, crumbs were strewn across the front of his shirt, and his hair was uncombed, “I can’t find my shoes” he said.

This may not seem scary to you, but for me this brings up fears of a son that cannot care for himself, irresponsibility, lack of initiative, and laziness. I saw images of a grown man living in my basement playing video games with orange chee-to stained fingers. These are the things of nightmares!! I have been encountering these moments more and more lately as my boys grow into the preteen years. They are changing, developing their own unique personalities and ways of acting in the world. I love to see this, but it also creates fear.   I am beginning to realize that I cannot control the outcomes of their life. I could be the best parent in the world and yet there will be struggles, difficulties, and challenges. In fact, Alfred Adler believed that the behavioral struggles for many children occur in direct relation to their parents value system. So, if you strongly value cleanliness, you will likely struggle the most with your child that has difficulty keeping his room clean. If you value kindness, your child’s misbehavior may manifest itself as disrespect and selfishness. I value responsibility and personal initiative. So, the behaviors that bother me most are lack of responsibility and forgetfulness. These behaviors push a button in me and I begin to imagine the worst possible outcome. I feel responsible for his lost shoes, I feel responsible for his future self, growing up to live in my basement. I start to respond in ways that are less than helpful for the current situation. Some times, this looks like me running around looking for his shoes, huffing and puffing about where they are SUPPOSED to be or threatening to leave the house with out him. Unfortunately, this behavior communicates to him “you are not responsible, so I (your father) must take responsibility for you”. Of course this is the exact opposite of what I want to communicate, which is, “you are responsible, you can handle this and I am here to help”. So, what can I do to avoid this train wreck?

First of all, I need to stay calm and stop indulging my worst fear images. The images of 10 years down the road are irrational and unhelpful. Instead I need to exercise patience, acknowledge my fears, and give him some time to find his shoes. I don’t have to find them, I can brainstorm possible solutions, but he is the best person to hunt them down (they did come off his feet after-all). I recently read a book by Ben Sasse entitled “The Vanishing American Adult: Our coming-of-age crisis and how to rebuild a culture of self-reliance” this book offered five practical ways that parents can help their children to build self-reliance they are

  1. Flee age segregation
  2. Embrace work pain
  3. Consume less
  4. Travel to see
  5. Build a book shelf

Check out this video I made to share some of my thoughts about these ideas.

What do you think? will these things work to build self-reliance in the next generation? Leave a comment below

5 thoughts on “How To Raise Self-Reliant Kids

  1. LOL Mark – Love this!!! I can So relate! This exact scenario has taken place many times in our home! In fact just this morning one of my 8 year olds could not find his shoes! He went to school in his older sisters gray w/pink stripe Nike’s. Another time he had on 2 left shoes (his brother didn’t have same shoes on that day so it couldn’t be fixed during commute and I wasn’t turning around). I’m of the philosophy that in some cases it takes some discomfort to make the necessary changes. So natural consequences I guess. It builds character 😜 All mine are so different. But I recognize that the one that is so disorganized is also so smart, creative , kind, thoughtful and funny. While his disorganization is sometimes painful for me to watch at times he’s happy as can be and not the least bit stressed. That’s just who he is and he’ll figure out what works for him. I just encourage where and when I can.

    1. Thanks Becky, This is such a great perspective. First to allow them to learn from their mistakes by allowing for the natural consequences. Second to accept them for who they are and to view the uniqueness as a strength rather than a weakness. My son is very creative, sensitive, and funny wonderful strengths that sometimes accompany forgetfulness. Thanks for the reminder…

  2. Can’t help but wonder though if I’m somewhat ok with his disorganization and laissez-faire approach to life because …… he’s a lot like his mother 😳

  3. I do think these ideas would increase self reliance in the coming generation-which is something it desperately needs! I see teenagers that have never had responsibilities at home, and when they get their first jobs, they haven’t the slightest idea that they need to act like adults…simply because they don’t know how. Everything has been done for them all their lives thus far. Something a friend of mine has told me over and over that relates to many facets of life, not just raising children is this: You have to allow them the dignity to grow and learn, even if that means through failure. It hits me everytime she says it. If I do everything for my daughter, or other people in my life, they will never have the oppurtunity to experience their consequences and grow through that pain.

    I will definitely be reevaluating my reactions to situations to see what I can do to help my daughter gain her own self reliance!

    1. The dignity to grow and learn. That is so great! Saving them from all discomfort reduces dignity in some way. It sure is hard to see them struggle but knowing it leads to growth is helpful

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