Fostering Independence in Our Kids

This week, family is in town and we are getting ready for my oldest son’s Confirmation — Come Holy Spirit!

As an aside, May is always crazy — why is that?  It’s chocked full of really, really good things — it’s just too many good things for me to process while maintaining my sanity at the same time.  🙁  Wish me luck!

I prepared a talk for a parents’ discussion a few weeks back, Ways to Foster Independence in Your Kids. Anyway, the talk was cancelled because of scheduling conflicts, but I figured I’d share my thoughts with you because it’s really worth thinking about.

If you have read any of my previous posts, you know that I am no parenting expert.  🙁  Hopefully this will serve to jumpstart  your own thoughts on the matter, because this is important stuff, people.


Why Foster Independence in Our Kids?

First things first, we need to know why we should be fostering independence in our kids.  In many ways, it would be easier to do everything for our kids, rather than put all that time and effort into teaching them how to do something themselves.  It takes time.

The truth be told, we won’t always be around to help our kids.  They are going to need to know how to navigate this world of ours, without our help.

We’re slowly preparing our kids to live their lives without us. Sad, but there you have it. 🙁

Even from the youngest age, there are little ways we can equip our kids to master life skills that will be useful to them in the long term.  Besides, success breeds success — so those little victories will lead to greater ones as time goes on.

At the end of the day, we’re not doing our kids any favors by practically killing ourselves to do everything for them.  Sometimes doing too much for our kids will actually hinder them from being prepared to live life out in the world, apart from us — which is not what any of us want for our kids.


We Need Wisdom

Serving our family  is a very good thing, but coddling them isn’t.  We need wisdom — the wisdom to know when we’re actually hurting them by doing too much and the wisdom to know when we actually need to step in and help them because they’re just not ready to do something for themselves.

Who better to know this, then the One Who created them in the first place?

How do we get wisdom?  We get it through prayer and developing a relationship with the Holy Spirit.  Wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit — which explains why a lot of highly educated people can make the most ridiculously foolish decisions with their life.  Make friends with the Holy Spirit, people, because you’re going to need His guidance!

We can try to do this parenting thing alone, but why would we, when we’ve been given the Holy Spirit to help us?  Take time to tap into all those gifts at our disposal, because parenting is not easy.  I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get.


Have One More Child Than You Can Possibly Handle

Having one more child than you can possibly handle helps a lot in the fostering independence efforts.   For us, that is currently 6 kids — in the future, who knows, maybe 7?

Joking a bit — but there’s also a little truth to what I’m saying.  In my own life, having a handful of kids has made “helicopter parenting” far more difficult to do.  Our kids have learned to be more independent because I could’t possibly do everything for everybody all at the same time.

Living in a family provides opportunities for the older kids to step up and take on more responsibility for themselves and their siblings.

Even the littler ones really feel good about running to grab a diaper for their little brother or make themselves a snack because they don’t want to wait for me to finish nursing the baby.

And giving our babies precedence in the order of priorities has never made the the other kids act jealous or resentful.  They always seem to love and adore the little babies — and they are generally happy to help with the littler ones.  In fact, my 4 year old recently informed me that she wants to live in a “world of babies” when she gets older.   She gets it.  Babies Rule.

Babies are never seen as burdens in our house, and the older ones have really benefited from seeing the model of serving others — especially the smallest and least capable amongst us —  before themselves.

In our house, “babies rule”.  P.S. Stole that phrase from my sister-in-law


Start Giving Responsibility in Degrees

If you do everything for you kids until the day they leave your home — you’re going to have a big mess on your hands.  Frankly, their “mess” will spill onto the lives of many other people, as well.  We owe it our kids to start to get them ready for life outside of our homes.

Responsibility happens in degrees in our house.  For example, once they hit 5th grade, they take most of their classes outside of home.  They are then responsible for staying on top of their homework, turning it in on time, writing their own papers, and doing their own projects.

If they have questions, they are welcome to come to me — but I’m really there to focus on preparing the younger ones so that they will be ready to hit 5th grade and take on all those responsibilities on their own.

School aside, their are some really big choices they are going to have to make with social media, internet, video games, movies, etc… How we spend our free time largely determines the person that we will become — so this is a big, important part of preparing our kids for adulthood.

Devices are big!  We give our kids devices in stages.  When they’re 14, they might be eligible for an iPod.  I say “might” because if each child is different and they might not be ready.  The iPod is set up to Family Sharing and I have to approve each song or app they want to purchase.

Devices are big!

This brings up a lot of good discussions as to why a certain song or app will or won’t work in our home.  These have been amazing conversations, guys.  And I say “no” far more than I say “yes” —  but communication has improved in the teen years because of it.

This isn’t because I don’t trust my kids — it’s because I don’t trust the world is going to raise my kids better than I will.

We turn off “safari” and “podcasts” and take off the “explicit material allowed” option on the devices.  They start with a device without a lot of the “pitfalls” and we see how they do with it.  If they show themselves responsible, then we slowly add more access for them.

In the end, this privileges in degrees allow us to see how they handle new privileges and will hopefully prepare  them to leave the nest and learn to be moderate in their approach to devices, social media, and the like.


Let Kids Experience Consequences in a Measured Way

If I noticed one of my kids left an iPod or cell phone outside and it began to rain, I’d take it in.  But a library book left outside in the rain after they were told to bring it in three times? Maybe not.  Measured consequences is the name of the game.

Not the time to let these little kids run free and learn about the consequences of playing in traffic — measured consequences are the name of the game.

If you happen to find an older child up at midnight working on homework that they should have started earlier in the day — maybe you should just leave them to it.  They might be exhausted the next day, but they’ll probably remember that the next time they find themselves putzing around the house avoiding homework during the day.

We parents tend to have the disease of trying to “fix everything” for our kids.  Finding moments to “detach” just a little bit from the consequences of our kids’ poor choices is really important.

Sometimes you just have to step back and watch your kids try to manage a project that they have fallen behind on — let them do their best and accept the consequences.  While they “go to it”, you “go to” bed and dream about the responsible kids you are forming while you sleep.

Granted, there are moments when a little merciful help from us is a good thing — but that goes back to the wisdom thing I mentioned already.  If you stay close to God, He’ll let you know when to step in and when to step back.


Unconditional Love and Open Dialogue

Love your kids, even in the midst of their mess-ups, because they are going to mess up — a lot.  Try not to over-react to the crazy things that they do and see it as opportunity to have the important conversations that need to be had in life.

If you make yourself available, you are probably going to have lots of conversations on topics that cover the spectrum of morality. These conversations are the natural process of your kids taking their faith and making it their own.

Try to make yourself available so these conversations can happen — and I’ll warn you that the really important ones don’t tend to happen at the most convenient times — so be ready to drop everything when the important conversations come along.

The good news is that the more your kids know “why” we believe something, the more they are going to be able to help their peers and siblings through the same struggles.  There are many solid resources out there if you don’t know the “why’s” of your faith — so don’t be afraid to look into your faith and see how very reasonable it is.

Let your kids know you love them no matter what — and remind them that your love for them is what compels you to say, “no” sometimes.  They’re going to appreciate it in the long run.  Just don’t wait around for the thanks — it most likely will come in about 20 years.


Keep the End in Mind

Yes, we want to help to form our kids into responsible young adults who will do great things in this world.  But ultimately, we want our kids to get to Heaven one day.  All the success in the world will mean nothing if they don’t make it to heaven — so let’s keep the end in mind.

Teach your kids to Aim for Heaven — the rest will eventually work itself out.

Our job is to lead our kids to Christ, to put their hand in His, and step back very quietly and hope it sticks.  God loves our kids more than we cold possibly love them, and He chose us to be their parents — which means He’ll give us the grace to not mess things up too badly as long as we keep trying.

Let’s not forget, we’re called to be our kids’ parents — not their Savior.  Sure, every once in a while, we can save the day — but let’s leave the job of saving them to the One Who does it best.

Even if your kids end up living in a cardboard box under a bridge one day — as long as they know and love God and are trying to serve Him as best they can — consider it a very big win because they are headed in the right direction.

I mean, we’d probably prefer they didn’t live in a box, but what good would it be if our kids gain the whole world and lose their souls in the process?

Sometimes we can get so stuck in the weeds of life that we begin to worry about the things that don’t really matter and we lose sight of the things that do.  Remembering our ultimate goal is a good way to put things back in perspective and help our kids to keep moving forward with the things that really do matter in this life.

That’s all I got.  Have a great weekend.

Linking up with Kelly.

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4 thoughts on “Fostering Independence in Our Kids

    1. Kathleen,
      I need to hear it too 🙂 Such a balancing act of helping and leaving our kids to their own devices — and I don’t mean iPhones 🙂

  1. Loved all of this! I adopted a philosophy with my first that I should not do things for my first that I wouldn’t do for #7. It’s so freeing! No, I don’t particularly enjoy the learning period of how to put on your own shoes, buckle your own seatbelt, or take yourself to the potty, but the payoff is so great!

    1. Kirby,
      I adopted a similar resolution — I always wanted to be able to do for each what I did for my first — which meant lower expectations and really putting thought into what we decided to do for our first. So glad we adopted that mentality. Thanks for reading.

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