I ran into a high school friend a couple weeks ago. She has four boys ranging in age from older than my oldest to younger than my youngest. Her oldest left last fall for his first year of college, and we were chatting about how she missed him, but there were no tears on her part. Because that’s exactly what we want to raise our kids to be . . . independent, young adults . . . if at all possible, and of course, based on their own levels of maturity, we want our kids to grow up and leave home. The goal is not for them to depend on us forever.
Let them be little . . . we’ve all heard it . . . I’m a firm believer in letting our children be children . . . in not pushing them too hard, too fast . . . whether that be at school or at home . . . but also . . . there comes a time when we must let them grow up.
I’m a big fan of Christian based marriage and family podcasts (Focus on the Family being one of the top ones), and over and over this is a recurring theme. And I’ve learned, from listening to those wiser and with more experience along with digging into God’s word, how important and imperative it is for parents to allow their children to grow up. To allow them to begin to, safely, stretch their wings once they hit those teen years. It just seems like so many parents try to stop the process from happening. They try to stifle the independence and want to “keep them little” as long as possible . . . even when the time to be little has long since passed. The problem with that is the codependency and enabling it breeds are not emotionally healthy for anyone involved.
Having said that, it’s also proving to be one of the more complex parts of parenting . . . thus far, anyway . . . there’s definitely a balance to be struck in allowing my teenager to grow into a young adult. In knowing when to step in, but also in knowing when to pull back. It’s in not rescuing. In refraining from jumping in every time he has an assignment or a project or even a problem with friends . . . or girls. Not that I (or more aptly, we) never give advice, but also, it’s in letting him make choices and decisions on his own (within reason of course . . . he’s still a teenage boy which means his frontal lobe still has quite a bit of development left), and then allowing him to own those decisions and the subsequent consequences, be they good or bad. It’s in adding in, and sometimes pushing a little bit, more and more appropriate responsibility both within our home and out in the world. Which is one of the reasons he helps with laundry and cleans his own bedroom and bathroom and does various other chores. . . yardwork anyone? Part of growing up is contributing . . . it’s learning how to take care of things properly, and this “kid” isn’t really a kid anymore. He’s approaching adulthood at a rapid pace. Ultimately, it’s in letting go of the reigns a little bit and allowing there to be more freedom within broader, healthy boundaries. Knowing that we still have to lead and guide, and yes, set rules and boundaries. But he’s not a toddler any longer, and we aren’t in the business of micromanaging every aspect of his life.
Some days there’s a tug-of-war. Often, it’s a tug-of-war between parent and child. I mean, he definitely has no problem sharing his opinions or exerting a little independence, and as long as he’s respectful and it’s appropriate, I try my hardest to resist the urge to fight it (operative word being “try”). Which means sometimes that tug-of-war takes place in my own mind as I have to shut my mouth and ask God to help me to back off . . . to let him make choices with which I might not fully agree . . . that may not be exactly the best . . . that may lead to a little pain and heartache . . . but also, knowing that he needs to learn while he’s still under our guidance . . . while we’re still, as much as possible, his safety net. And believe me, none of this happens without a lot of prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit.
Of course, the caveat to all of this is that some children mature more slowly. I have two very different children with very different needs, and some children need more guidance for longer in order to truly be safe. There’s no hard, fast rule that says they must walk out the door at 18, but unless, they have special needs, then there comes a time when walking out the door is a must. When launching has to happen. And if you have a child with special needs, especially developmental or emotional, you know all bets are off. Please don’t think I’m oblivious to that. Believe me, I’m far from it. Those things aside, we have to let our children be children when their little, but then, we have to allow them the freedom to become the totally, independent adults they were created to be. We have to let them grow up.