(4-minute read) I can be quite ‘particular’; others call it perfectionism. Regardless of what you call it, this sometimes obsessive tendency for things to be ‘just so’ can undermine our goal to build confidence and responsibility into our kids.
We have lots of hedges in our garden. Friends, family, even strangers walking down the street will comment on how neat our hedges are. If I’m honest, I enjoy that affirmation.
Recently while recovering from surgery, I was unable to climb ladders, or lift the hedge trimmer for several months. Being Spring, every day I watched as the hedges grew more and more out of control.
One day our fourteen-year-old son asked if he could trim the hedges for me. After a couple of hours (and a little supervision) he had the yard back in shape. At the end of the day, he said the hedging had been fun and that he couldn’t wait to do it again.
On reflection, this interaction taught me some key lessons:
Once upon a time, I was trusted
When I became a teenager, my dad gave me the responsibility for mowing the lawn and maintaining the garden. I recall times when I set the mower too low and scalped the grass or trimmed a bush a little too enthusiastically. But my Dad didn’t intervene and take back responsibility.
Our son scalped a small section of the hedge, and some weeks later, there’s still no signs of the leaves returning. However, every time I see it, I smile, because it reminds me of his willingness to have a go and help me out.
Giving responsibility conveys trust
When we give a child an important job to do, it communicates that we trust them. They may doubt their ability, but our actions say, ‘we believe that you are able’. The fact that our son knows how important the garden is to me, certainly helped to convey trust (not to mention the excitement/ ‘danger’ element of being up a ladder with a power tool!).
Responsibility creates belonging
Human beings were created for community. Giving children specific areas of responsibility within the running of the family household helps to create a sense of belonging, of being a valuable contributing member.
However, I’ve observed that when children (particularly teenagers) can’t see that they’re making a meaningful contribution to the day-to-day functioning of the family, they’re more likely to invest disproportionally more time and effort into relationship groups outside of the family.
The lesson is more important than perfection
Of course, one of the reasons we don’t delegate responsibility is that it’s often easier to do the job ourselves. That way the job is done the way we like, in the timeframe we want. But that doesn’t help to develop our communication skills. It doesn’t help to develop our relationships, and it doesn’t help to develop our children into responsible young adults.
It’s important to recognise effort, especially when children are younger, or they’ve been given a particular responsibility for the first time. Expecting them to do the task to our standard from the outset has the potential to build frustration and resentment. However, as age and experience increase, we should expect their standard likewise to increase, and we can coach them to that end.
Our goal as parents is for our kids to grow up into responsible, functioning adults. A father of 6 once said to me, “my wife and I have always had the perspective that we are not raising children; we’re raising young adults, and as such have tried to treat them with respect and give them age-appropriate responsibilities.”
How about you? Are there tasks or areas of responsibility that you could be sharing with your children? Are you being held back by a tendency towards perfectionism, or wanting things done ‘just so’? For the sake of your children’s future, it might be time to relinquish some control and share some responsibility.