by Marianne Vanderkolk
The purpose of a stake and shelter circling a young sapling is to give it protection and support and equip it with internal strength and nourishment so that it will be prepared for the days ahead.
Years ago, we bought a Japanese maple to plant in the front garden of our newly built home. It was going to be a beautiful tree and we loved the promise of its autumn colors and shape. However, it needed attention. We provided it with a stake, a plastic sheath for shelter, and special care to the condition of the soil. That was the only way it would break through the predominantly hard, clay ground and survive the strong, cold winds that blew through our front yard. In time, as it developed and strengthened, we could remove the protection. Now we can see it standing solitary in the garden among more developed trees and shrubs.
Moving our children from babies to adulthood is similar to moving a sapling from the greenhouse shelter to the open garden. The parent’s responsibility is to equip them with the internal strength and nourishment to help them make the transition. Qualities we consider important for our children to learn before transitioning to adulthood and independence are responsibility, contentment, appreciation, self-control, concern for others and living life in community.
1. Be Responsible
A child who has learned to be responsible from a young age will not shirk from it when he is older. Responsibility means that you take on a job and are happy to be accountable for it and take the consequences if something goes wrong. The temptation, of course, is to blame someone else when there is a problem and that is a habit we should resist. As our children grow, it is important that they are given responsibility for certain tasks. Knowing that the family depends on their contribution in an area (taking out the trash, unpacking the dishwasher, feeding the dog, cooking a meal) – gives worth and purpose. It is important to communicate that their job is important and beneficial to the whole family and give them control of how it gets done.
As a homeschooling family, we have encouraged our children to take responsibility for self-directed learning. It is wonderful to see adult children continuing to teach themselves the skills and knowledge that they need. It’s not uncommon for someone in the family to say, “That’s a great idea! Why don’t you learn more about that?”
We also hope that our adult children will be responsible with regard to healthy choices in their lifestyles and thoughtfulness in budgeting decisions. Homeschooling families have the benefit of living life with their children and making teachable moments across all these areas. As we live life, we shop, look for healthy recipes, discuss what our bodies need, model behavior, and teach budgeting.
2. Be Content
From an early age, we need to remind ourselves and our children that it is not helpful to compare yourself to others. Comparison can lead to discontentment and discontentment leaves us feeling we deserve more. An adult who is content in themselves - with their abilities, circumstances, family, educational background, and opportunities - is more likely to pursue healthy goals than one who is driven from a position of discontent.
3. Be Appreciative
A thankful person is a pleasure to be around. There are too many people around who are grumpy, ungrateful and quick to complain.
Appreciation starts with the little things, such as spending time outdoors appreciating the beauty of a flower, the crackle of leaves in autumn, the crispness of a winter morning, or the detail of a butterfly’s wing. Thankfulness should not only be modeled, but is also something that needs to be taught on an ongoing basis. Developing a culture of appreciation in your family is an important place to begin and will hopefully become second nature to your children as they enter adulthood.
4. Be Self-Controlled
One of the big changes a parent faces (and at times grieves) is the change in control. When our children are small, we control where they are, who they are with, what they eat, their bedtime etc. There needs to be a progression from parents controlling what their children do to children taking control of themselves. They need to show us that they are ready to take control themselves. When our children were young, we would plan their days and routines. As they grew older, we gave them a time frame to complete their responsibilities in whatever order they wished. I would remind them that they needed to show me they were able to be in charge or I would need to step in again to help them.
Self-control means taking charge of yourself. It means you are setting out to manage your feelings and emotions, correct yourself when needed, remind yourself of what you ought to do, and place reasonable expectations on yourself.
5. Be Concerned for Others
One of my sons started a café last year. As he was expressing his highlights of the year (which is done with a groan every Christmas), he said he loved the fact that we, as his family, showed care and concern for his business and stepped in to help in whichever way we could - some with financial support, some to decorate, some to do maintenance, some to bake, some to clean.
My desire is that as adults my children care for each other and for others. Developing this attitude begins when they are little and modeling this within the family and as a family. We need to have our children alongside of us as we visit, make a meal to give away, serve someone, help outside the home, share willingly, and use holiday time to serve the community.
6. Be in Community
Lastly, as the stake is removed from around the sapling, I want my children to recognize that although in some ways they are independent, they are never alone. Although the stake is removed and the plastic sheath is gone, around them is a garden with many stronger plants nearby offering shade and protection. We do not raise our children to be totally independent. We live in community and should not view dependence on someone else as weakness, but rather a healthy way to live life.
Cultivating responsibility, appreciation, self-control, concern for others, and willingness to live in community takes time, effort, and perseverance, but the lessons gained outweigh the effort expended and the results are definitely worth it.
Marianne and her husband, Gerald, have home educated their six children since 1996. Although most of her children have completed their homeschooling, life-long learning never stops. In her website, www.design-your-homeschool.com she recognizes the uniqueness of each family and desires to guide them to create their own course of study. Her aim is to encourage parents to develop their own approach to home education which reflects their particular family goals, complements their lifestyle and is based on their own decisions.