My 15-year-old son, David, was supposed to leave for Washington D.C. on a band field trip at 5 a.m. the next day. One of his responsibilities before he left was to pull the weeds in the garden. When he had been assigned this job two weeks before, the garden didn’t look too bad and the job was fairly small. But after procrastinating, it was a veritable jungle in the back yard. At about 8 p.m., my husband asked our son if he had pulled the weeds yet and informed him that he would not go on the trip if that job wasn’t finished.
The look on David’s face was heartbreaking. He knew that his dad would not bend the rules, but he still had homework to finish, as well as his packing to do. It was already dark and finishing the weeding on time looked like an impossibility. I couldn’t believe that my husband could be so cruel. David had been working and saving for this trip for months. This could hurt his grade and he would be letting his fellow band members down. Just this once, I thought, we should let him off the hook.
It is so easy for parents to bail out their kids. When they suffer, you suffer, and holding them responsible can feel like it hurts you more than it hurts them. As parents, we need to squash down that desire to be “kind” and realize how important it is to teach our children to meet their obligations.
The Center for Parent Education states “Being responsible is a key to children’s success both in school and in the larger world when they grow up. When they learn to take responsibility for their actions and their commitments, they get things done and people know they can be counted on to meet obligations and promises. These children are seen as trustworthy and dependable, they don’t make excuses when they make mistakes but rather own up to them and make amends, they are willing to take on new responsibilities and they are often self-starters. Such behaviors are important ingredients to success in school and in life.”
We sent David out to pull weeds and in my heart I was crying. What I didn’t realize was that my husband had a plan to both teach David responsibility, but also to teach kindness and empathy. He gathered up the family and told them the situation and how important it was for each of us to complete our obligations. He then stated, “ I think that I will go out and help David. Would anyone else care to join me?” Every child jumped up, excited to go help, and we had the entire garden weeded in under an hour. What a great lesson we all learned in being responsible and in helping each other!