The primary purpose of parenting is to raise fully functional adults who can take care of themselves and make a positive contribution to society. Generally speaking, this should be accomplished by the time the child reaches the age of eighteen. After this age, parents have less verbal influence, but can still be a positive role model through actions and not so much their words anymore.
It is with intention that marriage and family are not mentioned in this article. According to Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development, the sixth stage, Intimacy vs. Isolation, does not begin until after eighteen. A person needs the successful outcome of the prior stage first, Identity vs. Confusion, which is realized in the teen years. When an adult understands who they are separate from their family and peers, they can then form a healthy attachment to another person.
Here are ten examples of a fully functional adult that result from effective parenting. This list is not meant to be inclusive or exclusive; rather it is a spring-board for discussion.
- Value of hard work. There are many ways hard work can be taught: sports, drama, school, music, chores, and part-time employment are a few examples. The important lesson is that talent will only take a person so far; dedication, devotion, and determination will take them farther. It takes perseverance to struggle through the difficulties of a task to its successful completion. The work however must be done by the child and not the parent in order to gain the full benefit.
- Get along with others. This lesson is generally taught in kindergarten but is forgotten in the tween years. As teens, they tend to segregate into like groups: nerds, jocks, artsy, drama, academics, and other categories. This concept is helpful in the development of peer identity but can create a distaste for those outside their group. Parents should reinforce the kindergarten philosophy and downplay the seclusion.
- Spend money wisely. This essential element is best taught through modeling. Children who understand that the family budget has been spent and there is no more money between now and the next pay cycle will have an easier time adjusting to their working adult life. Some parents want to spare their children from knowing just how tight things are or how much things cost. This philosophy brings shock and overwhelming feelings for the adult-child. Sometimes, the result is a passive-aggressive approach to work or budgeting where they would rather not do anything at all then have to live without.
- Good home economics. It is a shame that most schools no longer teach the basics of good home economics. Rather, the instruction is left to parents who may or may not have healthy habits. By the time a child reaches high school, they should be doing their own laundry, cleaning the bathroom, making their own meals, creating a balanced diet, picking up after themselves, contributing to household chores, ironing their clothes, able to sew on a button, capable of minor repairs, skilled in auto care, purchasing their clothing, and living within a budget. Those who are not taught these lessons tend to retreat home to be taken care of by a parent.
- Positive self-care. Most children will experience at least one major crisis, trauma, abuse, death, or accident during their childhood. How these incidents are handled by the parent greatly determines the lessons the child learns about intense emotions such as anger, anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, and inferiority. Positive self-care teaches a child proper management and coping skills for dealing with the difficulties in life. For instance, parents who model the ability to get angry without reacting poorly teach the child proper care. This is not about denying emotions, thoughts, or events; rather, it is about a successful expression without harm to self or others.
- Set and achieve goals. A good practice at the beginning of the school year is to encourage children to set a personal goal for the upcoming year. Parents should not be the ones to set the goal. A child who achieves a goal they set for themselves receives a much greater satisfaction than those who achieve goals set by others. Parents can however assist the child in breaking down the goal from a year to monthly steps and then to daily actions. This reinforces the concept that goals are only accomplished one small step at a time.
- Strong ethical values. This is not about memorizing a bunch of rules or values. It is about understanding the importance of ethics in every aspect of life. There are ethics at school (no cheating), at a store (no stealing), at home (no lying), and in a neighborhood (no destruction of property). For each of these basic values, a child should be instructed on why these guidelines are in place. The words, “because I said so,” are not sufficient in understanding. The lack of direction in this area creates adults who are oppositional or resistant to authority.
- History of family. This is not a popular topic in our culture but is extremely helpful in establishing a sense of belonging. For every family, there are cultural or historical aspects that define the family for the better or the worst. Trying to “protect” a child from the bad aspects, disorders, or events of the family tree does not help them. Explaining that divorce, heart disease, depression, addiction, or a personality disorder runs in the family can actually provide relief to a child who might already be experiencing the early warning signs. Of course, the positive aspect of a family is equally important such as courage, faith, determination, perseverance, commitment, loyalty, and professions/talents specific to the family.
- Spiritual development. All of the answers to faith do not have to be understood at this point. The essential part is that a person realizes they are a small part of a large life in which they are not at the center. Along with this should come the knowledge of their own faith as well as respect for other’s faith. Respect and agreement are two different matters. A person can respect the opinion of someone else without agreeing with them. Parents have a unique position to positively encourage spiritual growth without forcing it on their child.
- Giving back. From a social developmental aspect, this generally is not fully realized until much later in life. However, the seeds of giving back to others must be sown early on for generativity in mid-life to stick. This also reinforces the notion that not everyone has exactly the same advantage as others which assists in the development of empathy and compassion. Generosity should not be forced but explained with allowances given to where the child’s heart might be at the moment.
When parents strive to teach their child in these ten items, the child develops a healthy perspective of their world, themselves in the world, and their family.