As Americans, we tend to proudly raise our children with the wonderful knowledge that ours is indeed a free country. From the time our offspring are preschoolers, we tell them they can be anything they want to be, do anything they want to do. It’s inspiring. It’s encouraging. However, while we all enjoy the freedoms afforded us by so many who have gone before us, as well as those serving our country today, the idea of telling our kids they can do anything they want needs to be a lesson learned with loving limits.
I’m not saying we squash our kids’ creativity, imagination, or desires to succeed. I’m just saying that while we gradually turn the keys of their lives over to them, we make sure they understand that the guardrails, caution signs, and even “highway patrolmen” are there for their well-being. While growing up, my wife and I loved to share with the boys a quote we picked up somewhere along the way, “Freedom doesn’t mean you should choose do what you want…rather it means you have the power and opportunity to choose what is right.” That definition of freedom has gone a long way to shape their thinking as they walked through their formative years.
But, how do we raise children to become adults who greatly use and enjoy their freedoms, while simultaneously honor and appreciate them? Ironically, the word that must be coupled with freedom would appear to be its antagonist: limits. And I would like to add the adjective “loving” to the term limits. With some thought and care, we can teacher our kids the loving and beneficial limits to living free.
The current tenor of politics aside, two of the areas adults often see an abuse of freedom falls into those of finances and relationships. It’s easy to see how that happens in a culture in which we have a 20 trillion-dollar national debt and divorce statistics are at an all-time high. But, what about on a “kid-level?” Shouldn’t these things be addressed early on, in order to give them the best tools and perspectives possible, later on? Let’s break it down, child-style.
Finances. I’m most certain that when our boys were small, they believed that as long as there were checks in Mommy & Daddy’s checkbook (remember those?) that there was a limitless amount of money in the bank. I chuckle to think of that, but then quickly remember that there are many college students who still think this way, and if that doesn’t change, they become adults who can never manage their finances, often experiencing unnecessary strain in an area they could have better controlled and subsequently enjoyed.
So, what can we do? Well, perhaps we can start when they are little, giving them small tasks to mimic the actual work they will need to have one day, and also in giving them compensation for completing those tasks. Every family has to figure out the details of teaching kids financial management on their own. Every family values different things, and has to create their plan to instruct their kids. My wife’s parents didn’t drive the newest cars or believe in keeping up with the neighbors in fashion or “toys” (boats, motorcycles, etc.), but they were very committed to family vacations and their children’s educations. On the latter, that did not mean they could select any college in the land, but with planning and preparation, some financial support would be there to assist them.
When it came time to raise our own family, my wife and I decided that vacations and family experiences were of the most importance, but we encouraged the boys to find ways to pay for their own education. In addition, they paid for their own cars, taxes, tags, and insurance. Friends of ours often gasped at the concepts, but our now grown sons constantly are telling us that they are so glad they learned the power and reward of hard work and responsibility, early on. All of this to say, we would never let them starve in college, or leave them stranded with a blown-up engine on the highway, but figuring out how to teach our kids the limits of financial freedom . . . with love . . . is critical.
The other area of understanding loving limits, greatly affects our children’s relationships. With ever-increasing instances of bullying and the rhetoric in our nation via social media and politics, it is more important than ever to help our kids understand the responsibility they have to others in relationships. While I believe relationships are far more important than finances, I can boil it down in a far more succinct manner. Quite simply: we must model and guide our sons and daughters to enter into relationships understanding that they need to care for the other people in them as much as they do themselves.
Ultimately, they need to value themselves, especially when a relationship turns unhealthy or potentially harmful to them, and also value others. How do you pass that on? One easy to understand paradox we tried to pass along to our boys. When you care about others, and serve others needs before your own, it pays dividends that are priceless. A lesson we can all practice a little more I think!