Do parents 'own' their children?

As parents, we sometimes speak in terms that sound like ownership,

Do parents own their children?

as in 'my child', 'our kids'. But these words aren't meant to communicate that children are our possessions. Instead, we are acknowledging a responsibility and labor of love that goes far beyond ideas like private property.

In our culture, we take for granted that the basic necessities of life should be provided to children by parents:

  • food
  • clothing
  • shelter
  • safety

We agree on how important it is that children grow up in a healthy, secure environment. They need adequate rest, a balanced diet, and frequent exercise. But that description sounds like the kind of care we show the family pooch.

Parenting goes far deeper than meeting physical needs.

The United States has adopted compulsory education laws which require parents to provide their child with a quality education. We start with foundational skills of reading, writing, speaking, and basic math, and go from there.

However, education is not just imparting facts; it is about helping our young people learn how to view the world and their place in it. They must develop executive skills, healthy coping mechanisms, and a moral compass. Parents are vital to this process.

But it doesn't stop with academics. For our children to become responsible, intelligent adults of strong character, they must also be taught virtues such as honesty, patience, compassion, generosity, and courage.

The most effective way for parents to teach good behavior is by modeling it. We have to be an example of the ideals we expect our children to learn. We also encourage them to look up to people of good character who exhibit sound judgement.

  • Find service projects you can do together as a family.
  • Don't be guilty of equivocation, insincerity, and duplicity.
  • Discuss current events together.
  • Watch TV and read books together so you can explore themes and character.
  • Supply opportunities and challenges to inspire your child's creativity and a spirit of giving.
  • Encourage them to express their individuality and fulfill their potential.
  • Show them how to defend their deeply held views without being offensive and arrogant.

Is all this time and effort just an exchange of goods and services? Does their vulnerability make them our property? Do our adult children now "owe" us? 

The short answer is "No." Our children didn't ask to be brought into the world, and our role as parent is based on our responsibility and our love for them.

And so, one of the things we need to teach our kids is how to establish appropriate boundaries in their relationships. Just as parents do not own their children, neither does a school, a church, a close friend, or the state. Your children need to know when and how to walk away from an unhealthy or abusive relationship, including one where an authority is being controlling and manipulative.

This is also something we can model for them. We can show them how to be courteous and respectful by treating them with courtesy and respect. From there they can learn to be civil with those who believe and live differently, and also how to detach when someone crosses lines of propriety and personal space. 

This is one of the most difficult lessons for us as parents to teach, because few of us learned how to do this when we were children--and some have yet to figure this one out. But the bottom line is: When teachers, pastors, other parents, relatives, and friends consistently act in ways that are disrespectful or harmful, we must break these ties.

  • Is this easy? NO.
  • Is it sometimes ugly and painful? YES.
  • Should we first attempt a reasonable period of discussion and try to reach some level of understanding? OF COURSE.
  • Is compromise ever an option? SOMETIMES.

At every stage of a child's life, we are forming their ability to be smart, responsible, independent individuals. We don't accomplish this by using our power and authority to hold them back--we do it by letting them go.

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