Our children are temporary passengers on a train they never chose to board. We bring them onto our life journey, intentionally or without thought, but our destination and even our route is not by their design.
How we treat these involuntary riders determines the way their own lives unfold once they disembark from our carriage. If they even do! And if we derail while they’re still aboard, the fright of that experience can inhibit their delight in laying their own tracks.
In reality, when we purchase a ticket for a destination, do we expect to be put to work aboard the machine? If we are offered free passage, no strings attached, do we feel misled or exploited when once en route we are given no choice but to shovel coal into the boiler to keep the engine chugging? A mutiny would quickly arise were passengers turned unwillingly into crew.
Yet many parents do not hesitate to put their children to work keeping the family train operational. Chores are encouraged and applauded by almost all. So why do so many children resist their responsibilities, challenge their chores and undermine the expectations put upon them?
Choice. Free will. Fairness. Hypocrisy.
Children are not slave labour nor serfs. Regardless of how convenient their presence and how accessible their hours, to demand unnecessary contributions and unwilling labour is to invite mutiny no different than how passengers with tickets would resist serving in the dining car. A treasured guest is not ordered to work for their keep yet children get the mixed message they are loved but must earn their place in their home.
Were the train in real trouble, and the passengers given the opportunity to understand the situation and to volunteer to assist, many would go above and beyond. Knowing their own skills and abilities, the riders would offer what they could and do their utmost to help. Especially if they have seen the crew in action so truly appreciate the effort that goes into running the system.
We bring children into this world without their consent. To make them pay fare for riding with us is unfair. To force expectations and responsibilities on them when it is arbitrary or contrived is to leave them feeling used and exploited. They learn that love requires involuntary sacrifice and family feels like work. That home is where the servants are.
To invite them to labour beside us when we need their help, coming from a place of vulnerability and sincere need, is to show them how to step up when really needed. Or to ask them what they are interested in joining us with, to create bonding through shared labours, is to teach them the profound intimacy of common goals and experiences.
Leave the curriculum and artificial expectations in the classroom and make home a safe place to grow, free of exploitation, servitude or hypocrisy. They will offer help when they are ready, and learn when there are Moments to do so. As passengers on our train, they may want to explore it with us but sometimes they are simply along for the ride and won’t come to life until they start their own journey and that is just fine. But the more we enjoy our own ride, the more inspiring our pleasure, the greater the chance they will want to see what excites us.