Teaching Responsibility

While most people would agree that giving a child responsibility early on in their lives is a good way to teach them to be responsible adults, there is some disagreement as to how much responsibility is good for them.  If you don’t give them enough, they may not learn how to be responsible.  If you give them too much, you are robbing them of the opportunity to be children.  Some children have so much responsibility that it effects them well into their adulthood, and while they may learn how to be responsible, they don’t learn how to enjoy life.

First, let’s take a look at a child whose mother is very ill.  His parents are divorced.  His brothers have their own lives, and no time for their extremely ill mother.  This child grows up taking care of his mother.  By the time he is fully grown, he is still expected to take care of his mother, and is not allowed to have his own life.  As a result, he has difficulty holding together a relationship, especially with any woman who has children, because he thinks that her children need to be every bit as responsible as he was at the same age.  He had so much responsibility from such an early age that he doesn’t understand children or teens at all.  Because his mother was ill, it really isn’t his parents fault, or anyone’s fault for that matter, but this is a man who needs more help than most to understand children.

Another scenario is a child whose parents gave her too much responsibility in some ways, but not enough in others.  This child never had a single chore before the age of 9.  She never did a dish.  She never had to pick up after herself.  Her mother did it all for her.  At the tender age of nine, however, all that changed.  Her father decided that it was high time she start babysitting her two younger brothers.  She had 3 brothers, but the youngest was a baby, and her mother refused to leave the baby with her.  She felt bad enough leaving the other two with her.  Her mother allowed herself to be far too influenced by her husband, resulting in this child going from no responsibility to full responsibility with no preparation.  When this child’s parents divorced, her father convinced her that all her problems were her mother’s fault.  Now, as a result, this child is an adult who has virtually disowned her mother.  She calls her mother by her first name instead of Mom.  She calls her stepmother Mom, and barely talks at all to her real mother.  How her mother wishes she could go back and change the past, but she knows that she just has to accept whatever her children think of her.

The next scenario is a young man in his teens.  He lives with his father, stepmother, his own brothers and sister, as well as his father and stepmother’s new baby.  He is supposed to care for the baby almost exclusively.  He does most of the housework.  He does all the things that a mother should be doing for the baby.  He doesn’t complain, and in fact proudly tells his mother about his accomplishments and that, if he does a good enough job, his dad and stepmother will buy him a cellphone.  He rarely, if ever has a day to himself, much like his mother when she was in the house.  He feels he deserves this type of treatment, while his mother looks on in horror, knowing that he deserves better, but she can’t provide him with what he deserves because the court has already ruled on the situation.  She knows that he shouldn’t have to shoulder that kind of responsibility at this age, especially with the baby being his little sister, and not his own.  He’s old enough that he could father a child, but has been responsible enough not to, and should not have to act like the father of this child. 

Each of these children was robbed of something precious in their childhood.  Each of them needed responsibility, yes, but not as much as they were given.  The rule of thumb to go by when giving your children responsibility is to ask yourself if they are doing more for the household than you are.  If they are, then you are not actually teaching them responsibility, but rather teaching them that they don’t need to take responsibility for themselves after their own children reach a certain age.  Is this really what we want to teach them?