Teaching Responsibility

Teaching responsibility is not random or finite. And as much as we wish, it is not even tangible. It is the evolution of the building of the character and the guiding of the being that is your child. Perhaps “teaching” is the wrong word to begin with. It starts with that first spark of interest in the toddler mimicking what you do. He or she sees you sweep and wants to do the same…or to wipe the table or to fold the laundry. The child wants to do it because he / she loves you and wants to be more like you. From this viewpoint it is logical that we should then make “chores” a natural progression for the child like learning to walk, talk and hold a spoon. We should not impose our desires on that child because we are overworked and need the house perfect 24 hours a day. It is more logical to say, my child although 18 months, wants to clean the kitchen floor after I cook. So I will show him how I do that when I cook. My child, although 2 years old, wants to sweep. So I will show him how I do that. In this way when that child is five or six years old and you are a little tired, they will offer,” Mom you don’t have to clean the floor after you cook. Remember when I was a baby, you showed me how. I can do that for you.” And they will be so very proud of themselves and you will enjoy a mixture of relief and relaxation.

I have tried charts and rewards but I have found that all the “work” I did encouraging their musings as toddlers and infants is what really shines through. This is my fifth pregnancy and I am neither miserable nor very sick but my two oldest, now seven and nine, recognize that sometimes I need to nap. Daily without coercion, I hear, “Mom you go rest now while I do the dishes.” Or,”I will watch my little brother so that you can relax.” Or, “Mom I will make the lunches so we can go to the playground”. My home as a whole is not perfect, but they offer to help and try their best to clean up after themselves and split the responsibility or encourage their five year old sister to help out.

And with that I had an epiphany, you can not teach responsibility. You have to encourage the sparks of light throughout your child’s existence from their earliest show of interest in “helping out” and continue that tempered and enjoyable expression. You will see it progress as they evolve into their own and it will be natural…in harmony with their character and the flow of your lives together.

Cordelia Gaffar

Cordelia Gaffar is a mom for peace, justice and honor amongst humanity. She is blessed with two boys and two girls and lives outside Shenandoah Valley in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.

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  • ummossama

    I totally agree!!!!!..encouraging those “sparks of light”….excellent reminder!!!JAK

  • Amaara Khan

    Thank you for sharing this parenting art. I am not a mother, but I still hope to contribute. I was the eldest of two children in the family and although I know it benefited me, I always helped my mother out. I do not believe that my responsibilities came because I had sparks of interests. My responsibilities came because of needs that come up in a two immigrant parent working home. Today, when I hear the word “childhood” and try to look back at my own, I really cannot remember much. I do not remember playing in the grass, running around, playing dress-up, or any other “normal” things that girls are supposed to do. I completely understand the need to teach kids the importance of responsibility and we should, but my dear mothers, please keep the following in mind:

    a) Do not over emphasize the lesson of responsibility that your children forget what it is like to be children, please create a balance.

    b) BE EQUAL in teaching the boys and the girls this lesson. Mothers and fathers tend to excuse the boys of taking on responsibility, while the girls take on more and more responsibility. Eventually, there is an imbalance in the maturity of these children when they are young men and women.

    Mothers should consider that teaching boys to be young men, real men, is a responsibility in and of itself and that too, a very heavy one. Today, my younger brother is a real man, but I believe that my parents dividing up the responsibilities equally between him and me in our childhood contributed to this reality a great deal. He somehow remembers his childhood :)

  • Cordelia

    As salaamu alaikum, Amaara

    This is also a great reminder! Being a mother can be a difficult balance at times as inshaAllah you will see. Whether you are an immigrant or born here, having two working parents is tough.

    I appreciate your “childhood” experience; however, was the youngest of four girls with a stay at home mom. I eagerly offered to help her with cooking and cleaning to be near her.

    Now as a home schooling mother, my goal is to encourage my children to be balanced and respectful of all regardless of gender, age, creed or religion and responsible for themselves especially their actions…as we are taught by the Prophet SAW. My sons actually maintain a more organized room, play area and eating area than my girls and prefer cooking.

    I require that we all (Mommy too) do what we “need” to do before we do what we “want to do”…which of course is to play in the dirt and make mud pies. We should enjoy our children’s childhood as much as they do.

  • Maha

    Wow, what an interesting topic and great reflection. Those “sparks” in toddlerhood shouldn’t be brushed aside as a burden, but nurtured and encouraged.

    Amaara, thanks for your comments–that is an important dimension to think about.

  • ummossama

    AA sisters,

    Amaara,,youi brought up a really good point…sharing household equally between boys and girls..my girls were asked to do more of ‘kitchen work ‘ and son–outside work–mowing lawn etc..and maybe even my dd’s had more responsibility…..this was a mistake and my dd when much older pointed this out to me.

    the other point is that children shoiuld realize that to be part of a family requires responsibility on every member regardless of age and or gender as was mentioned…if you don’t instill this in children when they are younger …don’t expect them to get it when they are older….and sometimes it is the mom’s fault…there are many moms that do everything for their kids when they are younger and then when their kids are teens they are resentful ,angry that their kids don’t help. I have a friend with kids the same age as mine and we often lament that this was a big mistake that we made and will just have to live with the consequences.

    the other point that was mentioned …raising Real Men….I think that we have a crisis in our community……we are not raising our boys to become men soon enough.

    We have so many young women that are not married..I think that it is not because there are too few males ..it’s because there are to few Real Men.

    I think the issue needs lots of thought…. but giving our boys the age appropriate resposibilty is the first place to start.

  • Susan

    Instilling this sense of responsibility in our girls and boys and raising real men is a gift to our sisters and THEIR children who may one day grow up to be our child’s spouse! Show them young (teach, encourage, as you say) and pray that they carry it over into their grown-up households.