Teaching Responsibility

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Ischomachus’ wife: “My mother told me that my job was to be responsible.”
Ischomachus: “Yes, my dear, of course, my father gave me the same advice.”
Xenophon, The Estate Manager, VII

Her parents told her to be responsible. And his told him. We can presume the parents did more to teach responsibility than just give advice. Forming children to be responsible is a, if not the, central task in parenting. ‘Being responsible’ here means taking ownership and being careful to do one’s part, for the sake of the common good. To learn to be responsible one must be given responsibility. In pre-industrial-revolution households many things needed for human life were produced. There was thus much significant work—work that had an obvious and urgent connection with life—to entrust to the younger generation. Seeing with their own eyes the care-ful work of others, especially their parents, young people also had a pattern to follow. Finding a fitting context for teaching responsibility through work is more difficult in contemporary households.

But being responsible implies more than having a good work ethic. It requires having a heart for the common good—and its claim upon me. In other words, the truly responsible person is careful in his work precisely because he sees his work as contributing to something greater than his own needs and wants. What then forms children to revere and want the common good? William Cobbett wrote: ‘To have a dutiful family, the father’s principle of rule must be love, not fear. His sway must be gentle, or he will have only an unwilling and short lived obedience.’ Parents lead by the example of their love—a love the children should experience, should feel in the parents’ exercise of authority, and in the parents’ work. Christopher Lasch asserted that it is the task of the family to make a person ‘want to do what he has to do.’ It is easier to mold exterior actions than to mold the heart. It is the role of parents to do both at the same time.

Xenophon (430-354 B.C.) was a soldier, historian, and philosopher of Athens. Like Plato he wrote dialogues featuring Socrates as a great teacher. Among these dialogues is Oeconomicus, translated as The Estate Manager, in which we gain insight into the structure and principles of the ancient household.

About John Cuddeback

Author of BaconfromAcorns.com blog.
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4 Responses to Teaching Responsibility

  1. Kathy says:

    Wonderful! I have noticed this week (while iced in) that my home has hummed along better than ever. Childhood responsibility is over looked by too many activities and not giving them a chance to have such a responsibility for the common good. You have set my mind to thinking (again). Thank you!

  2. Jerry Pituch says:

    Excellent post. The greatest joy a parent can have is observing your children taking responsibility as they get older. It shows that we have done our job well. I often remarked ( somewhat jokingly but perhaps not, ) that my wife and I were proud members of Lake Woebegone’s Catholic Church – ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility’. In watching our children raise their families, we are justly proud of our ‘membership’ and hope that they will continue the same.

    Thank you for your insightful posts. They are both instructive and inspiring and I look forward to each one as an affirmation of the way life should be lived. God bless you.

  3. Kathy, Isn’t it interesting how being forced to stay at home for some length of time can reveal much to us about our homes, and about things we can do even if we are not forced to stay at home.
    Jerry, At this point I can only imagine the joy of seeing your children raising their own families. When the acorn does not fall far from the tree, I suppose this should be no surprise.
    Thank you both for your comments.

  4. Kathy says:

    Yes John I agree, and I felt the whole ice storm (kept us home for 7 days) was a true gift. It also provided some good insight into knowing our children even better. I will be removing even more from our schedule in the coming year and the storm influenced less media driven purchases into more board games and books for Christmas

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