Excerpted from the book Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
Allison was by nature a ‘helper,’ and she gladly helped her
fourteen-year-old son. She loved helping Cameron. She made his beds, put away his
clothes, cleaned his room, and more.
When I (Dr. Cloud) caught her in the act I asked,
‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m cleaning Cameron’s room,’ she said. ‘What does it look
like I’m doing?’
‘You are what?’
‘I told you. I’m cleaning up his room. Why are you looking
at me like that?’
All I could do was share with her the vision in my head.
‘I just feel sorry for Cameron’s future wife.’
Allison straightened up, froze for a moment, and then
hurried from the room. I walked into the hall to see her standing there
motionless. Not knowing what to say, I said nothing. After a few moments, she
looked at me and said, ‘I’ve never thought about it that way.’
When Allison looked into the future and saw a time when
Cameron would be leaving responsibilities for others to do, she became
concerned. What a mother doesn’t mind doing, others deplore. She glimpsed the
reality of a character destiny. And she changed how she interacted with Cameron
to help him develop a sense of responsibility, to help him think about how his
behavior affected others and whether or not others would want to be a part of
The real issue of parenting is this: Is what you’re doing
being done on purpose? Or are you doing it from reasons that you do
not think about, such as your own personality, childhood, need of the moment or
Parenting has to do with more than the present. You are
preparing your child for the future. A person’s character is one’s destiny.
A person’s character largely determines how he will function
in life. Whether he does well in love and in work depends on the abilities he
possesses inside. In a world that has begun to explain away people’s behavior
with a variety of excuses, people are left wondering why their lives do not
work. Most of our problems result from our own character weakness. Where
we possess inner strength, we succeed, often in spite of tough circumstances.
But where we do not possess inner strength, we either get stuck or fail. If a
relationship requires understanding and forgiveness and we do not have that
character ability, the relationship will not make it. If a difficult time
period in work requires patience and delay of gratification and we do not
possess those traits, we will fail. Character is almost everything.
The word character means different things to
different people. Some people use character to mean moral functioning or
integrity. We use the word to describe a person’s entire makeup, who he is.
Character refers to a person’s ability and inability, his moral makeup, his
functioning in relationships, and how he does tasks.
What does he do in certain situations, and how does he do
When he needs to perform, how will he meet those demands?
Can he love?
Can he be responsible?
Can he have empathy for others?
Can he develop his talents?
Can he solve problems?
Can he deal with failure?
How does he reflect the image of God?
These are a few of the issues that define character. If a
person’s character makeup determines his future, then child rearing is
primarily about helping children to develop character that will take them
through life safely, securely, productively, and joyfully. Parents’and those
who work with children’would do well to keep this in mind. A major goal of
raising children is to help them develop character that will make their future
It is in this sense that we say the future is now. When you
are a parent, you help create a child’s future. The patterns children establish
early in life (their character) they will live out later. And character is
always formed in relationship. We can’t overestimate your role in developing
this character. As Proverbs says, ‘Train a child in the way he should go, and
when he is old he will not turn from it’ (Proverbs 22:6).