One Counterintuitive Secret to Use with Your Kids

When I was young, my dad worked hard at his job and often was busy away from home doing that job; earning a living and providing for his family. My parents had a good marriage and both found a way to divide the family responsibilities between mom, dad and their three children.

I distinctly remember something my dad did that I didn’t necessarily like or appreciate at the time—but now recall as a crucial ingredient in my maturation.

You might call it a secret he leveraged that many parents don’t use today.

The Counterintuitive Secret

Today, parents across the country seem to have adopted a different set of values than my parents possessed. We want our kids to admire us; to respect us and to be our best friend as they grow up. We want to be their heroes. Nothing inherently wrong with that, except that it can exclude a significant element kids need to grow up:

They need to see us in the grind.

My dad brought me with him into the garage to watch him change the oil in his car. He had me with him once when he bought a car. I remember going to see the office where he worked. I didn’t necessarily like it, nor was I entertained by what I observed. I watched him argue with my mom on occasion and resolve conflict. My dad took me to hear great communicators at conferences and he talked to me about politics in election years. I saw both my dad and my mom in the grind of daily life. They didn’t shield us from it. They cared less about their children thinking they were perfect and more about getting us ready for life after graduation.

  • In our careers.
  • In our marriages and families.
  • In our community.

As I observe parents across the country, I see a very engaged population of caring adults. Often, however, we care too much about life appearing perfect. We seem to care less about letting our kids see life being messy, imperfect and unpolished. We want so much to be their heroes, that we often only show them our Superman costume, not our lives as Clark Kent. Sadly, we shield them from daily, genuine problems. As I talk to recent college graduates, the majority of the young professionals I meet say they feel unready for careers and adult life because mom and dad did it for them—and never showed them how to do it themselves. We didn’t show them the grind early on.

The Secret: Show Your Kids Your Daily Grind

What would it look like if we, parents, decided it was more important to unveil the grind of adult life as our kids migrate through adolescence (between 12-24 years old) and decide it is less important for them to think we are amazing? To do this, we must make a decision that neither of you may enjoy at the moment:

Take them with you.

Don’t ask them if they want to join you; in their teen years, they often won’t. But do it anyway. Care more about them thanking you at 30 years old, than thinking you are the best parent for never letting them be bored. How can parents practice this?

  • Take them with you when you exchange propane tanks on the grill.
  • Take kids with you when you change a tire or buy a tire.
  • Have them with you when you buy groceries or household items.
  • Have them with you as you prepare dinner for the family.
  • Have them with you as you divide up the clothes and wash them.
  • Take them with you as you make big decisions like choosing paint or carpet.
  • Have them with you when you argue. Don’t hide the arguments you have, unless the topic involves private or sensitive issues. Kids need to see how adults argue and resolve conflict in a redemptive manner.

The next phase, of course, is to slowly have them do those activities themselves. As they are ready, actually turn over the task to them:

  • Have them pump the gas into the car.
  • Have them do their laundry.
  • Have them buy the car (even when you help them).
  • Have them get the groceries (even when you pay for them).
  • Have them assist with cooking dinner.
  • Have them manage a budget for their clothes this school year.

The key is to lead your young. It’s not a popularity contest. You’re not their BFF yet; not until they are young adults and ready to do life on their own. You take them with you to learn life because they need to do so, not because they want to do so.

I loved the phone call I got from my daughter, three years into her career. She called to tell mom and dad that she worked with a team of young adults who were clearly unready for life (in her opinion). In the end, she said “thanks” for getting her ready. That’s a call every parent longs to receive. Let’s go take them with us.

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One Counterintuitive Secret to Use with Your Kids