Home Life by Bev and Phil Haas
Let’s begin by acknowledging no child is perfect regardless of how it may appear from the outside looking in. Some kids may behave better than others and make better choices, but the Bible reminds us that we all fall short (Romans 3:23). Rest assured that 99 percent of the parents reading this column identify with your family, not the perfect family. That’s because the vast majority of us have kids who make their share of mistakes.
I’m reminded of a study Dr. James Dobson talked about years ago when our children were preschoolers. The study involved babies researchers observed in the hospital nursery moments after they were born. Of course nurturing from parents had not yet come into play so what they were seeing was nature. As they monitored the nursery the researchers noticed that two clearly distinct temperaments emerged. One they referred to as easy babies. These were the compliant and easygoing infants. The other they identified as difficult babies (Bev and I prefer to call these challenging babies). These babies were demanding and easily agitated. We recall this study so long ago because we had one of each born into our family! Now that we’ve leveled the playing field a bit, let’s consider the up side of having children who make mistakes.
Growing in Responsibility
Instead of questioning your parenting skills when your kids mess up, we suggest that you view their mistakes as opportunities. Kids who mess up have more than enough opportunities to grow in responsibility as they learn to resolve their own problems. Kids who mess up very little have fewer opportunities to learn how to handle their own problems. Of course the secret to success here is to make sure we don’t put ourselves where we instinctively know we shouldn’t be: in the middle of our kids’ problems. Parents who take on their kids’ problems do them a great disservice. They rob their children of the chance to grow in responsibility, and can actually foster irresponsible behavior.
There are exceptions, however. Occasionally we should make our children’s problems our own. A parent should step in when a child is in danger of losing life or limb or making a decision that could have negative consequences for a lifetime. Also, we must step in when our children know they are in a situation they can’t handle by themselves. In these special situations a parent needs to get in the middle of the problem. Unfortunately, knowing when to step in and when to stay out is not always as simple as we would like.
Learning How to Live
It’s easy to dwell on the mistakes your kids make; instead we encourage you to reframe them as opportunities to learn from the experience. Alfred Adler, medical doctor, psychologist, and founder of Individual Psychology, lays it out this way. He asks, “What do you first do when you learn to swim? You make mistakes, do you not? And what happens? You make other mistakes, and when you have made all the mistakes you possibly can without drowning—and some of them many times over—what do you find? That you can swim? Well, life is just the same as learning to swim. Do not be afraid of making mistakes, for there is no other way of learning how to live!”
Overall, one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is the knowledge that with God’s help, they can always look first to themselves for the answers to their problems. Kids who develop an “I can” attitude become survivors. They have an edge in learning, relating to others, and making their way in the world. As Jim Fay, author of Parenting with Love & Logic (NavPress, 2006), points out, “The best solution to any problem lies within the skin of the person who owns the problem.”
Allowing your children to mess up and then solve their own problems presumes a basic trust that their behavior will change as they learn from these experiences. So take heart. Although your kids may be of the more challenging temperament and mess up plenty, they will learn plenty and eventually become productive and responsible adults.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children, and they have one grandson.