Did you ever think about this? I mean, your child will always be your child, but they will probably spend the bulk of their life living with someone else.
I was [gasp!] 19 when I got married and I have been married for 34 years--in not that many years I will have been married twice as long as I was not.
In light of this, for those of you who are currently raising someone's spouse, I would like to encourage you to keep this in the back of your mind. You are not raising your best friend, or a miniature you, you are raising a child who will all-to-soon be an adult. It is job, a big, tough, wonderful job, but a job none-the-less.
So, with this in mind, I have a few tips that might serve you well:
- No matter how wonderful or smart your children are it is probably wise not to tell them that too much. I truly believe that kids that are praised too much soon feel the words are empty. Less praise means more. What this does not mean is that you should with-hold love and understand. That is not what I mean. What I mean is to limit such things as, "You are so smart, pretty...." A child that is raised with too much flattery will either scorn it or thrive on it and neither thing is what most folks want in a spouse.
- Children like to be needed and to know they are important. This gives them self worth and makes them feel a sense of responsibility. I think this is best done through chores and working together as a family--and trust me, the future spouses of your children will be thankful for this as well.
- I think it is important for children to understanding that the good of the family comes before the good of the individual. This is not only an important lesson for the future, but if parents would keep this idea in mind--that the family is more important than any one individual, I think more marriages might last longer and empty-nest couples wouldn't look at each other with no idea of what to do or say because their focus has been child centered for so long. When everything centers around a specific child--such as all the various activities he may be in, his schedule, his needs, etc. --it is setting that child up for a difficult adjustment when he gets married or even when he gets out on his own. In real life, the world just does not revolve around one person. Each person in a family should learn how to give and take and have lots of practice with compromising.
- Sharing is good. Sharing a room, sharing a bathroom, sharing chores, sharing pets, parents, hand-me-down clothes...Sharing is good. Keep this in mind. They will probably have to share their whole lives with someone, so they may as well learn how to be cheerful about it when they are young. A child who never has to share [and I have met many--you know the kids that get everything they want] are not a lot of fun to be around a lot of the time.
- It is good for children to learn to earn and manage their own money. We always did allowances, but other very successful families do not. But, somehow children need to learn money does not grow on trees and how to manage it.
- Children do not need to be entertained all the time. I can't tell you how many people want to know how to entertain their children. What I mean is this...I loved to read to my kids, we went for walks, picked berries, rode bikes and so forth. But, for a big chunk of the day, our children needed to entertain themselves and it is my belief that this big chunk should only have a very small amount of the time spent in front of a computer or TV. For more about this, you can click on the link above.
- Raise children that are compassionate. I don't have a formula for this, but basically they should learn to help each other, help out neighbors or elderly family members, be ready to lend a hand to parents, to teachers, and so on. I think this may be more caught, than taught, but here is an example I saw just a couple of weeks ago. I was babysitting for family friends who have five children ages 2-11. The nine year old gave the two year old a bath and got her ready for bed. After this the four older kids and I all played a game while the two year old tried to grab the game pieces. The nine year old talked very kindly to the younger child and said she could sit on her back [like a horsey] and play with her hair. I have seen many nine year olds who would have yelled at the younger child, or been very impatient, but this child had learned from her parents to be compassionate.
- Children, starting as young as two, can learn to pick up after themselves. Children should learn to leave a room the same way it looked when they arrived--no shoes in the middle of the floor, no pop cans laying around and so forth. If they open a door, then when they leave that room they should close it. When they take a bath the towel should be hung up and dirty clothes put in the laundry basket. This is a lesson everyone should learn. I went to a class in the prayer chapel at Asbury Seminary several years ago and people actually brought pizza and pop into the chapel to consume during the class! Then, they left the cans and boxes behind. I mean, an empty pizza box left in a prayer chapel? You are not only raising someone else's spouse, but maybe someone else's pastor or counselor. This is a lesson that needs to be learned, and learned well.
- Teach kids to take personal responsibility for themselves. This can look a lot of different ways, and here are a few: When they are in about 5th-7th grade they should take responsibility for getting themselves up with an alarm clock. I know you could get them up, but this is part of growing up, being responsible for yourself. It would also include making sure they have what they need for school or an activity before it is time to run out the door. So, if they need clean jeans, they should either do their wash in order to have the jeans, or if they don't do their own laundry, they should take the dirty item to the laundry person early enough that it can be clean in time. So, whatever rules you have about laundry, the child should be responsible for following them by the time they are middle school age.
It may be hard to watch your child take the consequences, but the lesson learned will be worth it--and remember, you are not raising kids so they will need a personal valet when they are grown, you are raising them to be someone else's spouse--or if they remain single, you are raising them to be self sufficient, confident, compassionate adults who are not a burden to society.
Remember, personal responsibility--don't you wish everyone had it?
I am sure I will think of other things in the coming days, and I may have to write a part two of this post, but I think this is a good start. Not only will your children be more of a joy to you now, but their future spouses will be appreciative.
Let me know if you have any more ideas about this important job.
Photos, top to bottom: Chad with wife Molly; Cris with wife Jen; Dusty with wife Sharon