Raise Your Kids So They’re Not Self-Reliant

Susan Narjala   |   September 4, 2020 

Did you do a double-take when you read the title of this article? I wouldn’t blame you. It’s an odd title. It unhinges some of our core beliefs about how to raise our kids. After all, how can it be wrong to teach our kids to stand on their own feet?

As a mom of two middle schoolers, I absolutely want my kids to do their homework assignments on their own, make their own beds, wake up in time for school without constant prodding from me, and to do their best with the rigamarole of responsibilities that come with being tweens. I’m even training my 12-year-old to make a morning cuppa for his mama. (I've explained to the unfortunate child that his being an early riser comes with its share of “special” duties. I'm not sure if he’s buying it, though.)

From when they are very young, independence seems to be the goal for our children. This is especially true in the West, as opposed to a relatively traditional society, like India. When we lived in the US, I saw this play out in several facets of parenting; kids are encouraged to sleep on their own, to self-soothe, to pick up finger-food themselves, to tie their shoelaces, and, as they grow up, drive themselves to high school and leave home when they hit eighteen.

What I’ve experienced in India is that parents, perhaps unwittingly, foster a child’s dependence on them. I’ve seen, for instance, moms carrying school bags for kids or feeding children who are perfectly capable of managing on their own.

But this article is not a cultural discourse on the kinds of parenting or which trumps which. In a world where our kids are constantly being told that they “have what it takes,” and where independence is lauded as a non-negotiable virtue, is it time to offer an alternative narrative? Not one which cultivates a life-long dependence on parents. Nor one that advocates a self-reliant, you-got-this philosophy. But one which points our children to the only Person they can always count on.

Children are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3) and parents are stewards of that gift. If we believe our children belong to God, shouldn’t our goal be to point them to Him as their Ultimate Security?

The best way to teach a child the way that they should go is to walk that path ourselves.

When my kids observe my life, I don’t want them to be convinced that their mama is brave or “fierce” (as every blogger seems to want to describe women today). I want them to see that their mama trusts God when she is not brave and quite the opposite of fierce.

I need to model to my kids that prayer is not merely a good habit, it’s also a way to establish complete dependence on the One for whom we were created.

Let’s show our children that when there’s a decision to be made, we don’t just clinically weigh the pros and cons, but we cry out to God in surrender.

Let’s show our children that when we find ourselves in a pit, we don’t desperately look around for wobbly ladders of self-reliance, but instead look up to the hills, and from there comes our Help (Psalm 121:1).

Let’s show them that in a crisis, our first instinct is not to turn to the internet for advice but to turn to the indisputably wise One who is able.

When we speak to our children from the Word, let’s not start and end with cute Sunday School stories and crafts involving glue sticks and glitter. Let’s speak truth into their lives through those stories – truth that when we lean on our own understanding, instead of trusting God, our paths end up pretty messed up.

When Eve thought she could outsmart God, it led to the Fall.

When Cain tried to play God, it led to wandering.

When the people at the Tower of Babel relied on their own plans for success, it led to confusion.

When Abraham devised a way of tricking the Pharaoh, it led to embarrassment.

When Sarah thought her plans for securing a lineage were better than God’s, it led to despair.

When Jacob concocted his own ways to manipulate a blessing and birthright for himself, it led to brokenness.

And that’s just the first book of the Bible. Let's teach our children that when we put ourselves in the driver’s seat of life and imagine that we're giving God a lift, it creates emptiness and endless seasons of frustration.

When our children face life's storms, and they will, when they come to the end of their rope, and they will, may they always know there’s still Jesus – and He is enough.

This is what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 1:8-10 when he says: “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead . . . On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”

God may bring our children into seasons when they too are “utterly burdened beyond [their] strength.” We can’t cocoon them from those moments. Let’s raise them to know that when those inevitable storms come, they should “rely not on [themselves] but on God . . . "

May we not teach our children to set their hope on us (goodness knows, if you’re anything like me, you will let them down even if you have the best intentions. May we not train our children to be their own saviours and buy into the mistaken notion that self-help-is-the-best-help. But may we teach them and model for them the sweet freedom of relying on the One who will never fail them.


Photo by Margaret Weir on Unsplash

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When she's not smuggling chocolate past her kids or drinking gallons of coffee, Susan Narjala can be found writing, baking and (thinking about) working out. She grew up in Chennai, lived in Portland, Oregon, for the last ten years and is now back in India with her family. She finds nuggets of humour in the everyday, and writes about it on on her blog, www.susannarjala.com

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