Letting go is easy.
Not grabbing them when they’re falling. . . that’s much, much harder.
Rearing children means that you’re responsible for not only their safety and well being at the very moment (and every moment), but that you’re supposed to be laying the groundwork for them to take control over their own lives and make good decisions on their own.
The first part of that last sentence is enough to drive just about anyone to the edge of sanity. The second part is what will take you, pick you up and hurl you like a caber so far over the line that even on a dark night you wouldn’t even be able to see it if it were etched in neon and burning magnesium.
Children are the living embodiment of the thought that everything has consequences. What you do with and to them now will have lasting ramifications in their later lives.
As parents, we want to make sure our little dudes and dudettes learn not only from their own experiences, but our experiences. That way, they won’t have to suffer like we did. That is the platonic ideal of parenting, but you know no teenager ever actually listens. Why would they? I mean, they already know everything already.**
Which is why punishing kids ever more extravagantly as they grow older isn’t going to work all that well for you later on.
The most important lesson you can pass along to your little dudes is the instinct to, when they don’t actually know what to do or where to go, actually ask questions. Ask for help. And more, turn back to their parents for the first shot at offering said help.
Even now, I’ll use my dad as a sounding board before making certain decisions. I know he’s got my best interests at heart and has experienced a lot of what I’m already going through and he’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. And I say this long after the parent-worshiping phase has worn off.
It took a while, I will admit. I didn’t look to my parents as sources of help until some time after college. Before that, I was bound and determined to do it my way because I was the smartest man (I am a MAN!) in the room.
Fortunately, my parents didn’t start screaming at me when I made a bad decision or did something stupid as I was growing up. They offered advice, let me know what was expected and, for the most part, were calm but firm when I crossed the line.
The teenage years didn’t irreparably damage our relationship. Thankfully.
As the young dudes grow older and the consequences of their dumb decision-making become more significant, the urge to tighten our grip and tell them exactly what to do can become overwhelming. If you want to have any influence in your little dudette’s life as she grows older, you must let her make her own decisions.
That doesn’t mean you don’t set rules or allow her to do whatever she wants, whenever she wants. However, once you’ve made clear your expectations and the consequences of not meeting said expectations, you have to simply drop into an advisory role and pick your battles with extreme care.
I’ve always felt that, as long as it’s not disturbing class, my young dudes could wear whatever they wanted, have whatever hair cut they wanted. If I thought they looked horrible . . . Well, my being horrified by their looks probably was a plus.
Provide options, help them understand probable scenarios from various actions, but don’t’ try to force your decisions on them.
It’s never easy watching as your darlings make a mistake, but it’s one of the necessary steps they have to take if they ever want to grow up and be independent.
After all, we all want to use that extra bedroom as a place for us, not as the room for your adult child who’s moved back in.
Footnotes & Errata
* Still apologizing to the Beatles, still not regretting using the allusion even one little bit.
** For the sarcasm-impaired among you, that was sarcasm. Teenagers don’t really know everything. They just think they do. This has been a friendly reminder from Mr. Obvious.