My wife and I have raised four kids; they are all adults now and living and working on their own. They are not perfect and we are not perfect. However, my wife and I have picked up some valuable information along the way about raising kids to become adults.
What I see in our country right now is pretty alarming to me, since I have observed an inordinate amount of fully grown adults (people in their 20s and up) not only still living in their parents’ homes and being dependent on their aging parents, but also displaying childish behavior and refusing to grow up. A friend brought this interesting article to my attention in which 63 percent of American moms say that their kids have not been properly prepared for adulthood.
So what can we do? Here are a few ideas:
1. Start early.
Tell your kids early about being an adult. We told our kids when they were about nine or ten that at some point they would want to leave our home and begin their own lives. We didn’t scare them with “hey kid, when you’re 18 you’re outta here!”
We painted for them a wonderful and truthful picture that being an adult means you can work in the career of your choice, live on your own, chart your own course, and become a respected and responsible citizen of wherever you choose to live. We let them know that it was our job to prepare them for that wonderful future and that we would help them along the way.
Once they began their teen years, our kids learned that at age 18, they would be expected to have settled on the general direction of their lives. Childhood and dependency on Mom and Dad would (for the most part) end, and we would transition them into the adult world. By the time they turn 18 they should have decided if they wanted to enter the workforce directly or postpone that by going to college or some sort of vocational/technical trade school.
College is not the only way for everyone. Although both my wife and I have college degrees, we would be just as happy if a child went directly into the workforce. We also held out joining the U.S. Military as a valid option whether they wanted to enter college or the workforce (some people choose R.O.T.C. in college; others choose to directly enlist). One thing was clear for all four of our kids: they would not be allowed to loaf around in our house “trying to find themselves.”
As it turned out, one kid went to college and earned his master’s degree and is currently an athletic trainer at a major university. Another child served successfully in the U.S. Marine Corps, and is now enjoying a fruitful career in security. One child is currently working in the nursing profession and going to college to earn a degree in physical therapy, and the last one is pursuing a career in ballet.
2. Prepare your kids economically.
Children must learn early in life how to handle money responsibly. Teach them that they must not spend more than they have (and model that in front of them). We gave our kids a small allowance each week when they were young, but it was not automatic. They had to make their beds, clean up their rooms, and do all the regular chores we expected of them throughout the week.
Save all you can. We modeled before them the importance of using coupons, buying things on sale, buying good quality items, and purchasing things we needed. Only rarely would we “splurge,” but we made sure we had the cash on hand to immediately pay for it.
My wife and I warned our kids about the stupidity and destructive nature of gambling. We work too hard for our money to waste it on a stupid lottery ticket or a casino. School loans are totally anathema to us; if you want to go to college, then get a scholarship, or a grant, or work full time, or go into the military and get Uncle Sam to pay for it.
Our parents did not pay for college for us, and we are not going to pay your way through college. We can help with books or a bill here or there, but the burden of the cost is on you. If you absolutely have to get a loan, then you had better pay it back; Mama and Daddy are not paying for it.
Credit cards are fine, but pay it off entirely at soon as you get your bill. Make the credit cards companies work for you; don’t miss a payment and start working for them. When our kids turned 18 we got them credit cards (with a $500 limit) and transitioned them into learning how to have a checking account.
3. Teach and model a work ethic.
All our kids, from the time they could walk, had a job to do. They picked up their toys. They helped Mom put the clothes away. They helped us weed the garden. Once they were old enough they made their beds every day, washed windows, washed the dishes, cut the grass. If they didn’t, then they did not get their allowance. The kids learned quickly that they were not “handed favors” — they worked for money.
When our kids were moving into their teen years, my wife and I constantly taught them the value of punctuality. If you show up just “on time” then you are late. Get there at least 15 minutes early. Then you will be prepared to face whatever, and it will impress the boss.
Never, ever “not show up” (my father and mother would return from the grave and kick me if I ever did such a thing). If there is a problem and you can’t show up on time or that day, call the boss and explain the situation. When you do show up, do your job and half of someone else’s. Make yourself indispensable.
Take the time to teach kids good grooming and good manners. Get the hair out of your eyes, look an adult in the eyes, stand up straight, shake their hand with a good strong grip (never use the “dead fish” grip), and make sure you always use “yes ma’am/no ma’am” and “yes sir/no sir.” Speak clearly and with confidence (don’t slur your words). Respect the authority of the boss, be polite to everyone, stop your grumbling when things are not going your way, and finish the job.
Do all of that, and you’ll be leagues ahead of everyone else.
4. Let your children fail.
Do not be an “enabler.” I made stupid mistakes when I was a teenager and a young adult. Thank God that my parents did NOT jump in and try to “fix” the problems I had made! How else would I learn from my mistakes? Stupid should hurt. Pain is a great motivator.
Over the past 30 years or so, our culture has fostered a whole generation of people who have never grown up. You see it clearly in the behavior particularly (but not exclusively) in many who are college-aged. Things don’t go your way? Made stupid decisions and now you can’t pay your loans? Pitch a fit, destroy property, color in a coloring book, beat people up, and whine and cry until you get your way.
None of that is adult behavior. It is the pathetic behavior of people who refuse to grow up and get a life. Let your kids know up front that life is not fair, that they should not expect it to be fair, and that they must learn to stand or fall on their own.
My wife and I understand that misfortune does happen, and our kids all know that our home is a shelter in case of disaster. We will help to the best of our abilities. Our home, however, is only a temporary shelter. You cannot live in our basement indefinitely. We will help, but our help is not an “endless feeder.” You have to live on your own.
5. Pick good friends.
No man or woman is an island. We all like to surround ourselves with people who share our values, tastes, and goals in life. Unfortunately, there are plenty of “toxic” people who would like to come into our lives. We’ve taught our kids that there are three kinds of people: those who are a replenishing relationship, those who are a neutral relationship, and those who are a draining relationship.
You know you are with replenishing people when you look at your watch and it only seems like you’ve been talking for five minutes, but it’s been an hour! They fill your life with joy and optimism. They ask how they can help you (be a replenishing person!). You want them in your life.
Neutral people are just that: they never take a stand on anything, they contribute nothing to the relationship, but they don’t exactly hurt you either. Personally, I limit contact with them.
With draining people, you spend five minutes with them and it feels like an hour. All they do is take, take, take. They are toxic. Learn to spot them quickly, and do not let them in. Be polite, but keep them out of your life.
We all make mistakes; there are no perfect parents or kids. Raising kids is not automatic. It does not happen by accident. If we actively teach and train our kids, and above all — model this behavior before them — then we stand a much better chance of releasing our kids into the world of “adult-land” much better prepared.