Raising Kids to Understand Freedoms and Responsibilities

When my husband and I were engaged we spent some time envisioning our future adult children; not what career they would have or what type person they might marry, but rather what we wanted their character to look like. We wound up with a rather lengthy list! Ultimately, we wanted independent, hard working, compassionate adults who would “love the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength, and their neighbors as themselves.” Easy enough, except for one thing, children are not born naturally hard working and responsible people.

Being goal oriented people, we knew that in order to gain success we would need a plan. Driven by a panic that our kids would end up in years of therapy to undo the damage we felt sure we would inflict upon them, we began to create a road map. Starting at the end, we worked backwards through the growing up years and set benchmarks along the way that, we hoped and prayed, would result in the adults we pictured our future children to become.

We wanted our adult children to be hard working people, able to see a project through to completion. To accomplish that goal, we began giving our children chores as soon as they could toddle. Our two year olds would put away socks and sort silverware. Each age that followed added more responsibility so that by the time they were old enough to drive our children would be capable of running a home of their own.

We also wanted them to recognize that with freedom comes responsibility, and to be able to handle both. To accomplish this, we devised a birthday tradition. Each year on their birthday, our children choose one new freedom and one new responsibility. The responsibility is added to those already acquired (as happens in real adult life) and we retain veto power over freedoms. Over the years kids have chosen freedoms such as extended bedtimes, greater computer or phone privileges, the freedom to dye their hair, grow a beard or otherwise express their individuality. Responsibilities have included mowing the lawn, taking care of pets or washing the family automobiles. Some things, such as getting a drivers’ license are both a freedom and a responsibility.

The most important thing on our list for raising strong adult children is that they grow to love the Lord. Accomplishing this was not as straight forward and easily accomplished as some of our other plans, but we set goals along the way nonetheless. If we wanted our adult children to love God, they must first know God. So, we read bible stories, and participated in programs such as AWANA*. We did family devotions, took them to youth groups and went with them on mission trips. All good stuff, but it was all just stuff.

We wanted God to be more than a “church thing”. Following the command to, “Impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul;…You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,” we were intentional in having our children regularly see us engaged in personal Bible study and prayer. God peppers our conversations. We use scripture to both encourage and correct. A favorite resource is my well-worn copy of, For Instruction in Righteousness, by Pam Foster.

So how has it all turned out for us? Well, with one child in college, one about to graduate highschool, and our youngest in 6th grade, we aren’t quite to the finished product yet. But then again, are any of us ever really finished this side of heaven? I’m not sure what lies ahead for my children. I pray that our efforts in intentional parenting, along with heaps of grace and loads of affection and love result in adults who love God and their neighbors, are responsible, independent and are a blessing to their communities.


* a global nonprofit ministry committed to the belief that the greatest impact for Christ starts with kids who know, love and serve Him


Jennyfer Philips Norvell and her husband, Tuck, live in Orlando, Florida with their three growing children, two dogs, two cats and a hamster. Jennyfer is passionate about Inductive Bible Study, missions and building strong families. Her favorite advice to give is “know what you believe and why you believe it.”

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