The Lost Lesson of Responsibility

Also posted on my other site: Homeschooling the Minds of Tomorrow

Laura age 4-2

Recently, I had a conversation with someone close in age to myself about our childhoods.  I recalled my Saturday responsibilities growing up: raking and bagging leaves when I was younger, and mowing the lawn when I was a bit older. I had some kitchen clean up job every night of the week, except for my birthday, from as far back as I can remember (the above picture is me, age four).

When my grandparents needed help with things like cleaning out their garage or doing yard work, to their house I went.  I did get an allowance, but I was not paid to do these things.  I did them because I was a member of the house and as such, I was expected to pitched in.  When I did want extra money, my mom was always ready with a list of serious jobs.

There also wasn’t the constant badgering of “do you have homework” from my parents.  If I had it, I was expected to do it.  If I failed, that was on me.  And I was going to be in trouble for it.

As a mommy of a basketball team plus one and a half subs, I have a huge responsibility to teach them, well, responsibility.  I must say, I feel like I’m failing miserably.  Once upon a time we had chore day, which was in addition to the daily chores of kitchen clean up and nightly toy pick up.  But getting kids to do these things is hard. It takes a substantial amount of effort on the parents’ part to assign jobs, oversee them, etc. Not to mention, staying sane when they complain and whine every minute of the process.  I blogged about it a few years back 🙂

Then there is the teaching of responsibility with school work and helping with younger siblings.  It was actually much easier to know what was done and what was not done when my kids were all being homeschooled together.  Some work we did together.  The independent assignments took as long as they took.  There was no lying or cheating about it – I simply had to come in and glance at their paper to know how much was completed.  Now that three are in school, at least one has homework on a fairly regular basis.  I don’t usually ask, and he doesn’t usually come home eager to do it (understandable as it may be after being at school for seven hours).  It’s not until bedtime that he may panic and say he has work.  At this point, my reply is, “why didn’t you do it instead of _____?”  So a lot of his work goes back as incomplete.

Now I must confess that I am a helicopter mom by nature.  I like knowing what’s going on at all times with all my kids.  I usually err on the side of doing too much for them, yet getting upset when they don’t do something for themselves.  This is where I feel like I am doing them a great disservice in the lesson of responsibility.  Since they have been in school, I have let a lot of things slide.  Chores are a thing of the past.  I don’t have the energy at the end of the day to deal with the arguments.  Similarly, they now believe that chores are just a little too much on top of a long public school day.  So it is usually me who, after getting six kids ready and into bed, drags my tired self into the kitchen to clean up the mess. I clean the house. I do the laundry.  And when they are out of socks or underwear or their favorite pair of jeans has yet to be washed, they are upset with me for not having done it.  My first thought is why don’t YOU start doing your own laundry?! Yet how could I expect such a thing when I have never given them the opportunity of that responsibility?

It seems the more and more we do for our kids in an effort to “help” them, the more we are creating a helpless generation.  Does the idea of them ruining a whole load of laundry bother me?  Absolutely!!  Am I afraid that if I let them pack their own lunches, they will not get a balanced meal?  You bet!  But what am I really teaching them by simply doing it all for them, day after day?  If it can be measured by their constant ingratitude and complaining, I am teaching them nothing. And in the process, I am getting more and more exhausted and bitter.  Also, NOT HELPFUL.

I know that I need to take a few steps back and allow them to take responsibility for more.  I believe they would actually be grateful for this.  It’s a battle with myself, as well.  I found the following list from sheknows.com to be helpful for me as I try to begin this process:

mother and daughter doing dishes

1. Assign some accountability

Age-appropriate chores are a simple way to teach your child responsibility. Add in a little financial incentive and your darling will begin learning how to manage finances, too.

2. Let her make decisions

Letting your child make some of her own choices will teach her accountability and help her to gain independence. Younger children should be offered limited options, but give her the chance to choose from them.

3. Foster independence

The only way to master any skill is through practice. By letting her tackle age-appropriate tasks, like getting herself dressed, she will also become more self-reliant.

4. Set a good example

Taking your own responsibilities seriously sets a good example for your kiddo’s watchful eyes. “Whether we promote it or not, children always learn by example”, says Thomas S. Greenspon, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Keeping your promises or being on time are ways you can lead by example.

5. Pick up a book

Stories pack a lot of punch, so when it comes to reading time, select books that illustrate responsibility. Interesting characters and situations she can identify with will hold her attention. Even better, she won’t tune you out because she isn’t being lectured!

6. Talk her through difficult situations

Although your first instinct is to direct and protect your adolescent, instead of automatically telling her what she should do, guide her through the process of coming to a conclusion on her own. Ask questions and encourage her to think it through with your support.

7. Show them the bigger picture

The ultimate goal is for your sweetheart act responsibly because she wants to, not just because she’s told to. Explaining to your child how doing her part is helping the family as a whole can sometimes help young children understand how their actions affect others.

Teaching your child responsibility helps build character and makes her a more independent, self-reliant person. As she grows, remember to let her responsibilities evolve. Finally, don’t forget to give her plenty for praise for a job well done!

Here is a list of Age-appropriate chores.


A book I read several years back, which I found invaluable at the time and seriously need to re-read a few more times, was Have a New Kid by Friday, by Dr. Kevin Leman.  He takes a very simple, yet no-nonsense approach to parenting, discipline, and teaching responsibility and accountability.

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3 responses to “The Lost Lesson of Responsibility

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