Teach ‘Em How to Fish

Avoid Overindulgence: “Teach ’em How To Fish”

It can happen before you know it.  It feels good to give to our children because we love them.  My parents would tell me that they wanted me to have a better childhood than they had.  As parents, we get pleasure from seeing our children’s faces light up when they receive a desired gift.  But where’s the balance?  Is there any harm in enjoying ourselves as we sacrificially give to our children?  If it makes them happy, can there really be any harm in that?

Missionaries to third world countries often speak of a common principle in training of native people groups.  They say: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.”  The message is to teach skills that lead to independence, rather than only giving to meet their needs which leads to dependence.  Child-rearing is no different.  While it is most appropriate to give gifts to our children, it is counterproductive as they mature by teaching dependence upon us rather than teaching them to earn and do for themselves.

Parenting can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life.  It can give a parent purpose and motivation for living.  Healthy parenting, however, occurs in phases through which our children gradually acquire the skills needed to become competent, self-sufficient adults.  For some parents this process of transition is emotionally painful, and, therefore, they deliberately hinder their child’s growth in order to maintain dependency.  The reasons a parent may do this include:

  • They view parenting as their sole purpose in life.
  • Their children provide them with the emotional fulfillment that does not exist in their marriage relationship or through other adult relationships.
  • They view their child as needy and too fragile to take on the responsibilities of the world.
  • They desire to control their child’s destiny and feel that only they know what is best.
  • They fear the loss of a relationship with the child if independence is granted.

While this failure to “let go” of the child sustains the parent, it delays and even jeopardizes a child’s opportunity in life for a healthy transition to adulthood.  As the child reaches adolescence, there is a struggle that naturally ensues between a parent’s desire to hold on and the teen’s desire to spread his wings of independence.  Often because the child feels much love for and gratefulness to the parent for all the attention and sacrifice, he feels guilty for wanting to achieve independence.  This guilt can actually be encouraged and facilitated by the parent as a means of maintain dependence.

Sadly, in its most extreme form, this unhealthy relationship can produce a young adult who fails to achieve in the working world, which further verifies the parent’s conviction that he is “not ready” to be released.  This circular trap proves to be detrimental for both parent and child.

Teach independence.  Begin early and increase gradually as your child matures.  Remember, your goal is to work yourself out of a job by the time your child reaches adulthood.