My son started high school this fall and the countdown has started —for him and for me. Four more summers, three more first days of school with him at home. Four, three, two, one and then he will be off to college, trade school, or a job.
Odds are that he will leave us, his family, and his childhood home to pursue whatever dream he chooses to follow.
While a part of me is already grieving for the loss and change I know his absence will bring to our family dynamic, the other part of me—the one that must help him prepare for the biggest change of his life so far— knows there is work to be done.
When I was his age, I learned so many lessons about how to function in the real world before I was even out there and I want to prepare my son the same way. Here are five life lessons I am teaching my son now that he is a high school freshman.
Life Skills for High Schoolers
At the very least, he should know how to safely navigate a stove and boil water. We started out with basic scrambled eggs and then moved on to more difficult omelets.
I’ve found the more we cooked together, the more he wanted to learn. He even made dinner for his younger brother and sister one night. I’m also teaching him how to cook some inexpensive foods like Ramen and broccoli — things he can get by with quickly and cheaply, if he needs to.
When I was a college freshman living in the dorm, I had to carry my laundry basket up a few flights of stairs to wash my own clothes. I remember teaching my roommate how to sort whites from colors after all her T-shirts turned pink. She said no one had taken the time to teach her.
So I’m teaching my son to sort his laundry, treat a stain, and operate the washer and dryer. I’ve also explained that laundry isn’t finished when a load is washed and dried—it also needs to be folded and put away. I’m hoping to spare him the lesson of a ruined load of clothes (and save me the money of replacing them).
3. Money management
I got my first credit card in high school and my parents sat me down and gave me some advice I’ve carried with me into adulthood. They told me credit cards were not unlimited funds and I could only charge what I could afford to pay for that month.
I’m teaching my son how to budget his money and manage his bank account, as well as passing on the advice I got about credit cards. My son is learning to save for the things he wants to buy. When he starts his first job, 50 percent of his paycheck will be for spending, while the rest will go into his savings account.
Teaching my son cleaning skills is especially important to me because I grew up knowing how to clean a house from top to bottom and my brother didn’t. I am going to make sure my son understands how important cooking and cleaning are, regardless of gender. Wherever he lands, I want him to be able to sweep, dust, vacuum, and clean a bathroom so he can be an equal contributor in any household he shares. Teaching him these skills now means I get the benefit of having an extra set of hands to help out while he’s here.
My son has his first girlfriend and we have already talked about sex and the consequences of not being safe. I have also talked to him about what consent and respect mean, as well as equality, women’s rights, gender, sexual preference, and reproductive rights.
These are things he needs to know as a teenage boy, things he will carry with him as he becomes an adult male. It is my responsibility to teach him about all of these issues as honestly and openly as possible so he can go out into the real world informed, prepared, and responsible.
I know this list will grow over the next four years. My job as a parent is shifting from loving my son and keeping him safe to loving him and teaching him how to navigate the world without me.
No matter how much I teach him, he will still have questions and there will be things he has to learn on his own. But when he goes off to college, or wherever life leads him, I know he’ll be ready to take the leap. And I’ll be ready to let him.