Giving youth the dignity to follow through (and to fail)

Sep 5, 2013 by

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~Michelle

There is a stack of dishes in the sink that I’m really tempted to do. The last few days, I’ve also been ready to grab the weed whacker and tackle the weeds in my front yard. I don’t like going to bed with dishes in my sink, and, well, when weeds start creeping close to my height, it’s hard not to want to whack them. (And it’s not like I don’t have a million other things that need to be done in my home, too.)

With apologies to my neighbors for the weeds, and recognition that my family may be bowl-less tomorrow for the morning rush, I’m practicing a little motto I’ve heard before.

“Give them dignity to fail.”

We recently started a new job rotation, and I admit the timing wasn’t great. Except maybe it was. The beginning of school (which it is where I live) can be a great time to start anew with an attempt at some rhythm. We had a particularly lazy, late-night summer (and we LOVED it), but it’s time to be back in the saddle. (Or so it appears. Truth be told, I wasn’t quite ready for school to start.)

I felt like it was time to fold more responsibility into our schedule for the kiddos. (With my chronic health struggles, I’ve not been so good at either my part of this or of managing their part. But I’m trying to step it up a little on both ends. We’ll see how it goes.) During the summer, the kids each had some daily stuff they had to do, and they kept track of their progress. But it was fairly easy given the lazy, long days.

We changed things up and added some daily chores for the school year. Now rather than different chores every couple of days, they were given the charge to come up with some sort of arrangement that required at least a week on their respective assignments, so that they would have opportunity to follow through.

Part of this attempt, though, means I’ve got to let go of the desire to control how things go. While I am still giving them little reminders to help as they get into the cadence of their decided-upon routines, there are jobs that are not getting done each day. That means a full garbage can and full sink sometimes when I go to bed.

But I figure there is some value in them learning that mom won’t always be around to do what needs to be done, and there is value in ME not hovering over them too much. And there is obviously value in the idea of family work.

I try to do this with homework and laundry, too. I’m there to help, but I make it a point not to run around like a crazy woman to facilitate last-minute stuff they have procrastinated. As much as possible, I try to let them pick up the slack (do their own laundry if they have a last-minute or pressing need that they haven’t communicated) so they can learn to take some responsibility.

I’m far from a perfect mom (!!), but in terms of the motto, at least, I’m feeling pretty good about the dirty dishes and the weeds tonight.

As a youth adviser, I am thinking about how we might allow youth to follow through and learn by experience a little more at church, too. I think of a leader who urged us to let the young people try and fail in our classes and groups — so they can have safe places to learn these kinds of lessons. That has stuck with me.

I think the following questions could be good to ask ourselves:

– When I give a lesson, am I trying to make it a good lesson, to make it about me and what I did to make it good, or am I giving them opportunities to invite, share, act, follow through, report, and make mistakes? ( e.g., Do I allow silence in the class or am I anxious to fill it?)
– When we plan activities, are we doing all the planning and the execution, or are we letting the youth leaders help and take some roles in the process? When things don’t work out, do we criticize and shame, or do we encourage and say, “That’s ok. We are here to learn by experience?”
– On the flip side, do we miss opportunities to mentor and work alongside our children and the youth in our stewardship? (I know I have sometimes failed with this, looking at chores as relief for me, rather than taking Sister Beck’s words to heart: “Working beside children in homemaking tasks creates opportunities to teach and model qualities children should emulate” (from “Mothers Who Know” with emphasis added. I also am far from having a house of order that she describes, so please don’t get the wrong idea. I’m such a work in progress. Still, I like to discuss principles that I think can be powerful for us as moms and leaders in the church.)

I think this model of working beside youth can work in the Church as well. We don’t just throw responsibilities over the wall; we work by and mentor and guide and counsel with the youth in our groups).

I’d be interested in others’ thoughts on this. How can we balance the nurturing roles we have while also letting our children and those in our stewardships learn by experience how to prioritize and balance their responsibilities? What has worked for you at home or at church to mentor our future leaders? How have you failed along the way and what have those experiences taught you?

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