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Texas mom Kay Wills Wyma had an epiphany one day while driving her 14-year-old son to school. Pointing out two luxury cars nearby, he asked her which one she thought he'd look better in. Taken aback, she thought to herself, "Who's raising this kid?"
She realized that her children had no real responsibilities, no appreciation for hard work, and an outsized sense of entitlement. And it was her doing. Her children expected their beds to be made for them, they expected their dirty laundry to be washed, they expected dinner on the table every night, they expected the house to be clean—and they didn't know how to do any of those things themselves.
A Twelve-Month Experiment
Thus began a year of redefining her approach to raising her five children and the launch of what she calls "The Experiment." Over the course of the next year, Wyma, with the support of her husband, assigned a new task to her children each month. The goal was to replace an "I'm here to be served" attitude with a "Look what I can do through work" outlook.
Wyma took notes, kept a blog, and at the end of it, wrote a book called Cleaning House: A Mom's 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement.
The first month's task she named "Operation Clutter Control." Her goal was to have her children form a habit of tidiness. Their assigned job was to make their beds and keep all clutter off the bedroom and bathroom floors.
The next month, the children were put in charge of supper four nights of the week. They had to plan, shop for, prepare, and clean up after family suppers Monday through Thursday.
Other monthly projects included cleaning bathrooms, doing laundry, running errands, and finding ways to serve others.
Lessons Learned & Passed On
Along the way, Wyma learned a lot about herself and her family. For instance, she often had to fight the urge to step in and take over a task she'd assigned to a child. Many times it would have been easier (and faster) to do so, but she realized it would have sent a message that said, "I'll do it for you because you can't." Jobs that involved teamwork were especially gratifying for her to watch, as she saw siblings begin to help each other. She came to understand that giving children meaningful work fostered not only personal responsibility but also emotional health.
Wyma's faith played a part, too. She writes that
the deeper my intimacy with God, the more often I'm called to serve, the greater my peace and contentment. The lesson for me, and the one I'd love for all my kids to grasp? Be the go-to, uncomplaining, submitting, teachable worker. In a counterintuitive sort of way, peace and freedom accompany that path of surrendered obedience.
Wyma's situation is one many parents can undoubtedly relate to. It's easy to fall into the trap of wanting to make everything okay for one's children and in the process make it harder for them to become truly independent. Michael Gurian, author of The Wonder of Boys and The Wonder of Girls, wrote this in the Foreword to Wyma's book:
As a parent myself, I have often felt the temptation to "do for" and constantly "give to" my children. I have had to constantly remind myself that each boy and girl in our care is asking us to challenge them to their strongest, most loving potential. This challenge is a challenge toward purpose and life service, so it can't be met by parents doing for and only giving to kids. Kids must do for the world and family; they must give to the world and family. •
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