Five years ago I bought a Brown Swiss milk cow and brought her to our home in the city. We were the only people within miles around that had such an animal as this. Even my neighbors, who like to have a few animals around, couldn’t understand my madness.
They reasoned to themselves, “Why would Tim, of his own free will, choose to take on the headaches associated with an animal that needed milking twice a day, 365 days a year, rain, snow or shine? Why would he add something to his kid’s chores that he would have to monitor every day and that would undoubtedly be the source of contention in his home as the kids would argue about who’s turn it was?” My answer: I love milk! Actually, there was a greater purpose in mind and it was driven by a fear we shared that our kids would grow up to be lazy, entitled, and unable to delay gratification. On the flip side, we wanted for them to feel strong, capable, and…basically, not entitled.
Now, if you think I’m an amazing parent, please hold your applause until the end of the story because you might just change your mind. I’m going to be transparent with you. This is an honest story of the good intentions I’ve had that I’ve not always followed through on. Maybe you will learn something that will help you to stick to your guns and do what you feel your family needs when the rest of the world seems to be going a different direction. Maybe you will reach out and encourage me to keep with it. My hope is that both will happen.
Why a cow? There are a lot of ways to teach our kid’s to do hard things with jobs, volunteering, sports, academics, music, etc. It was my method of choice because of my rural upbringing. I was familiar with it. It was also a ready-made do or die situation. The garbage doesn’t moo, keeping the neighbors awake, if it isn’t taken to the curb.
I tell my kid’s the now famous stories of my grandfather who plowed the fields with a team of horses as a 10 year old boy. At his age, his stature placed his chin just above the draw bar, and as he walked behind the plow whenever he hit a big rock, the draw bar would smack him under the chin hard. In his own words he said “I would sit down and “bawl” for a minute, then get back up and keep plowing.” Why did he do that? Because it was expected of him as the man of the family while his father was in the mountains logging.
My own dad, at the age of twelve, rode his horse alone into the High Uintah mountains to pick up bummer lambs from the sheep camps, to build up his own herd and earn some money for the family. On some of his trips he would come back after a couple days, hitting a number of sheep camps, with 4 gunny sacks of 3 lambs in each with a hole for their heads to stick out of.
The Heidi experiment did what I had hoped, but after a lot of frustration and failed attempts. One night one of my son’s was in bed asleep when we got home. He had not milked. I had to wake him and have him go relieve Heidi. It was hard not to just do it for him, as it was not intentional and he has always been pretty cheerful about the chore. Still, we learned that it paid off when one night while Grandma was babysitting, she heard him get up at midnight to go out and milk, because he realized on his own that he had forgotten. He may not remember that night, but it was a thrilling thing for a parent to hear. It was measurable evidence that he was learning responsibility.
With all of that said, Heidi is no longer here with us. She is on my dad’s farm with three little calves doing the milking for us. Why? Frankly, it was more convenient for us as parents and we were tired of the complaints and battles. So what about our younger kids? We will just need to come up with something new.
There it is, I have fallen into the same trap I am warning you about, because it was very inconvenient to try to teach our kids responsibility. You won’t be perfect. You are learning how to teach and are overwhelmed with your own responsibilities. However, here are three points to remember as you read the great suggestions within this month’s issue of Notes From Home:
1. In today’s world of instant gratification, life won’t teach our kid’s these lessons automatically like they did in the good ol’ days. As parents and mentors, we have to deliberately set up circumstances for our kids to learn responsibility and ownership.
2. If you are doing what your neighbors are doing for their kids, it might not be enough. You might be giving too much and expecting too little. Do some research into what you are currently doing for your kid’s that they could do for themselves, or do without.
3. Do not underestimate your child’s capacity to work through challenges or problems. Do not rob them of the self confidence that comes from working for ownership of a talent, value, possession, or education. The most entitled kids, are actually the one’s who have the least confidence in their own power to produce it themselves.
To Your Family’s Long-term Success and Happiness!
Tim Thayne, Ph.D.