I asked our son to set the table for dinner and a fight erupted.

“Why do I have to set the table? You always ask me to set the table. Can’t he set the table?” Our oldest said while pointing to his little brother.

With that, youngest son, thinking he needed to defend himself yelled, “I set the table yesterday. I’m not going to do it again today!”

The row continued and I tied to think. I was hungry, tired and just needed a little help. Was that too much to ask? It seemed my husband and I must remind, cajole, punish the boys to do the simplest things. I settled their argument and set the table myself wondering at what age do children begin to consider other people and their feelings?

……That might be on us         

From the moment the doctor announced, “It’s a boy!” life revolved around our sons. The responsibility my husband and I felt for the tiny helpless babies we brought into our family was overwhelming. Everything we did and said revolved around our children, what was best for them, what they needed. The responsibility was so big, that we were finding it difficult to let go of that behavior, even as our children were proving to be capable of taking responsibility for their own lives.

Don’t get me wrong. We taught our sons stuff, like how to tie their shoes and look both ways before crossing the street. We potty trained our children and taught them life skills. I must admit, that was in part because I did not want my child to be the only kid in kindergarten wearing a diaper and not knowing how to tie their shoes. I certainly did not want to find my child lying broken in the street.

It Is All About the Kids

Even then, it was all about them. “Look what you did!” “What a big boy you are!” “I’m so proud of you!” Teaching skills provided our sons a feeling of self-satisfaction and afforded them some independence, but the focus was still on the kid. Just as it was our responsibility to teach our children life skills, it was our responsibility to help our children move their focus outward and away from just their personal needs.

A Change in Focus

There wasn’t going to be some magic moment when our children woke up thinking hey there are other people in the world! It was time to help them feel as proud and satisfied with themselves for helping others as they felt when they learned to tie their shoes. This wasn’t going to be easy. Unlike the skills we taught, teaching our children to value the needs and feelings of other people was an intangible concept. This was a concept that would require our children to become empathetic, understanding and cognizant of how their actions were affecting those around them. It was going to require a change in focus for the whole family, starting with me. “Hey kids, I’m going over to Mrs. Thorn’s after dinner. She just got home from the hospital. I bet she could use some help mowing her lawn and pulling weeds. Want to help?”