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Am I willing to take responsibility for that
which I am about to do?

Age 11, Grade 5

Honey, we’re here, try to wake up.
Honey? Come on, sweetheart, try to wake up.
Mom, I’m really tired.
I know you are but practice starts in five minutes.
I really don’t want to go, I’m so tired.

Well, why don’t you sit up and see how you feel once you’re really up.
I really don’t want to go Mom.

Honey, sit up.
That’s not going to help, can I just not go today?
Because, I’m tired, that’s why.
Look honey...
It’s just one practice,Mom!

Look, you’ve fallen asleep in the car before,
and we’ve had this conversation, before.

Mom, it’s one practice!!!
And what are you going to do the next time you fall asleep and have a hard time getting up?
Mom!! Can you just tell the coach I’m really not feeling well.

Why not?
Because you’re feeling fine. You’re just tired. Look, you signed up for this team because you want to play baseball. Going to practice comes with the territory.
It’s perfectly ok with me, if you want to quit the team because you’re too tired in the afternoon,but you need to decide what you want to do. We can sit here for as long as it takes. If you want to go home, you have to tell the coach that you’ve decided not to be on the team. I’ll wait for you.
I’m talking about one practice, Mom!!
Ok, then you can tell coach you won’t be at this one practice, but you have to tell him, not me.

And with that, my son grabbed his stuff, got out of the car, absolutely furious with me, and slammed the door very, very hard!
I sat in the car and watched him stomp off, pretty sure he was not coming back.
He didn’t. That was the last time we had that conversation. (He played baseball in college).

Age 12
6th Grade

My son really wanted to learn how to sail. We received, in November, a brochure for a five day sailing camp over spring vacation, that sounded wonderful so, we promptly signed up. All winter, he talked about Spring break and going to Annapolis to sail.

Comes the Spring. Comes the baseball season–except that this season, wouldn’t you know, they make the play-offs. And game one of the play-offs is the same weekend as the sailing camp. I know that I must let him come to terms with this, himself.
I’d only be missing one game, Mom.
That’s true, but you are a member of the team. Don't they need you there?
They have two other catchers, they'd be fine without me for one game.
I know you think I ought to go to the play-offs, don’t you?
Actually, this is your decision, I'm willing to go along with whatever you decide on this.
Yeah, but you think I ought to go to the game.
I can understand you not wanting to give up a whole five days of camp for one game.
I can also see where being at the game with the rest of your team is pretty important too.

I did have my own thoughts, but the time had come for him to make that decision all on his own, and I was willing to risk that his might be different from mine.
So, I let him talk. He made a strong argument for going on the sailing trip. I listened. I did not argue. Finally, he burst into tears. It had been a quite a while since I had seen my child cry that hard. I realized then, that he was about to give up something he had wanted so very much, to do what he knew in his heart, was right. I held him and he continued crying for a long time. You are growing up, I told him, and growing up can be painful sometimes.  This was one of those times. I asked him if he was sure about his decision. I was ok with whatever he wanted to do. He nodded. I told him how proud I was of him for making such a tough choice.

Comes the day of the game, and he cannot find his catcher's cup. We look all over, time is running short, and so, we rush to the sports store to buy a new one. As a result, we get to the field ten minutes before the game is scheduled to start. However, my son was actually to be there forty-five minutes ahead of time for practice. What happens? He comes up to me and says,
Coach just benched me for arriving late. I'm not in the game.
Did you tell him why you were late?
Yeah, but he said it didn't matter. It was my responsibility to know that my cup was missing before.

So, this play-off game, this one game he gave up a whole sailing trip for, he would not be playing in at all! Now, I start to cry. I even call my husband who's on a plane to California. At that point, everything seemed so unfair. And for the first time ever, I'm about to interfere with a coach's decision. But my son says, it’s ok, Mom. I’m ok with it, really. And, he really was. I could see it in his face. He had already gone through his bends. He had already made his difficult decision. It really didn’t matter whether he played or not. What mattered, was that he had decided to be there.

10th grade
16 years old

Overwhelmed with work. Hasn’t studied for a big test. Probably didn’t manage time well. Cannot stay home. Must go to school.
It’s 11pm. exhausted. What to do, He's in a panic.
Take responsibility and tell your teacher the truth.
What? That I’m not prepared for this test?
Yes. Teachers respond very well to honesty.
Look, you have no choice. You have to take the test and try to do the best you can. After the test, you can go up to her and say, you're pretty sure you tanked on this because you got overwhelmed and did not plan enough time to study. You feel awful about being so unprepared and doing so badly.

And as it happened, she told him that if he did well on the next test, she’d consider dropping his lowest grade before the end of the trimester.

This same approach works with other academic pressures.  Didn’t make the deadline for a paper? Take responsibility.
You know that you’ll receive a lower grade, but that’s ok. You take the trade off-- more time for a better paper. The teacher will note the effort, promise.

Kids can discover that taking responsibility, means they can tell the truth. They don’t have to cover and lie or cheat. That approach while scarier at first-- because kids won't naturally want to face up, or confront--is actually, so much simpler, and liberating and much more advantageous to them in the long run. Those they have to confront will always respond more positively to truth, (that includes parents) and kids will gain a lot more self confidence in handling the stress that comes from mistakes, blunders or embarassments and facing them head-on.

It is so easy for us to ride shot gun, pick up a phone, make an excuse or cover for our children and all of us have done that more than once. But when they get older, our kids really have to start facing their own choices, and that means making the phone calls themselves, giving excuses themselves, explaining their decisions themselves and taking responsibility for their actions, themselves. The hardest thing for us to do is step back and let that happen.

Whether we like to admit it or not, what they ultimately decide to do might scare us, or reflect badly on us. But, if we are going to grow emotionally mature adults, we must risk letting our children come to terms with who they really are. The less we cover for them, the more they have to face their true selves. And here is our ace in the hole-they, too, will want to like what they see, and feel proud.

We can start them towards responsibility by allowing them choices when they are young. When a child has to buy something with his/her own money, he/she suddenly gets much more discerning. It’s one thing if someone else buys, but do I want it enough to fork up my own money? Maybe not.
Or, when we put out a large variety of foods, we discover that left to their own devices, they will choose at least some of the healthy ones.

The same principle applies to all decisions.
Do I really want to do that, if I have to take full responsibility for it and its consequences?

We put that question in their laps.

Obviously, we are not going to let our children do anything we know would be harmful or self destructive,or impact their entire future in a negative way. There are some decisions we will always reserve the right to make.
Nor, will we stop giving our input on values and ethics. But at some point, we have to see what has gone into their computer, and whether or not, it exists in them, independent of us.

If my son had gone on that sailing trip, he would have had to take responsibility for NOT being with his team during the play-offs. Did he really want to sail enough to take that responsibility and be fine with it? Obviously, not. I needed to let him discover that all on his own.
If children can have plenty of practice making small, non life threatening decisions and taking responsibility for simple choices and actions they will be able to do so when they are older and the stakes are higher. By learning how to face someone and admit a shortcoming, or fault and be truthful when they are young, they will be able to remain truthful and honorable as adults.

So, sometimes when our kids say,
I’m going to do this or that,
or, I want to do this or that,
or I won't do this or that,
we can determine how big the risk, and if it is just a growing up, life lesson, we can respond-
You know what? I'm going to leave this up to you. It’s your decision but you must be willing to take responsibility for your choice and the consequences.
We can offer both pros and cons,
and listen to theirs without judgement,
And in the end, state with a big hug-
It’s up to you,
I know you’ll end up doing the right thing.
(the "I know you will end up doing the right thing"
is very potent, because kids really want to do the right thing, and most often they already know what that is.)
Let me know what you decide. I love you, no matter what.

Take care, comments

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