When I was in elementary school I used to walk myself to and from class, and I carried a key to my house. I used to ride my bike all over the neighborhood, ranging from 7-11 to O’Leary’s comic book shop. My wife, friends, and co-workers all have similar stories. My boys don’t have that same freedom. I haven’t intentionally withheld that from them, it just seems that the world is a different place. Heck, every time I do leave them somewhere I insist that they borrow a cell phone so I can call them. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was almost 30, and somehow managed to keep safe.
I’ve recently begun to notice that there are some basic skills these kids don’t have, primarily around age appropriate levels of responsibility. So I’ve been asking myself the following: how do I teach my boys to grow up?
So, what does it mean to grow up?
1) Does it mean they need to stop finding silly things to be funny? We have a blast playing wallball and making everything goofy. I don’t want them to lose their sense of humor and having fun.
2) Does it mean they should be willing to try new things? Not all kids are adventurous, but I wonder if my kids don’t try new things because they want the safety and stability of the known. It is easy for me to attribute this to the dual household arrangement they have. However, if I had them all the time, would they feel more safe, or be even more stuck in their ways?
3) Do I want them to be more aware of others and their feelings? This may be the big one, the one I want them to embrace, both for empathy, for relationships, and competition.
4) Do I want them to work hard? Yes and no. I don’t want them to be stuck in a 9 to 5, living hand to mouth, and choosing between bad options. I want them to build income when they are sleeping at night, so they can pursue their interests when they are awake. Yes, I do work at a stock brokerage, and I’ve learned first hand how powerful compounding interest is and that wealth begets wealth. I wish I had started investing at 18, rather than 28. Shameless plug – here are some Investing Books you may want to read or pass on to your kiddos.
5) Does it mean I need to be harsher with them? I’ve recently started “making” them go outside and use their imaginations more. They have a toy bow and arrow set, and we made target “creepers” to shoot, so they have fun when they do go outside. It’s heartbreaking to see them complain and drag their heels. Honestly, though, they need to be able to entertain themselves and pursue their own interests rather than just doing what their mother and I think they should do.
6) I’ve also resorted to bribery. I was getting tired of losing the water bottles that I send with them to school. I’ve taken to giving them a stick of gum each time they return their water bottle. I’ll tell you, that system is working well, but I don’t know how comfortable I am with providing external motivation for all of their responsibilities.
All this being said, I’m actually quite excited about helping them grow up. Middle school is not far away, and every empty nester I know says that the years go by very quickly. I’ve really enjoyed hearing their stories, seeing their minecraft creations, and watching them develop as artists and team mates.
By the way, helicopters are much cooler now then when I was a kid.