Step Back and Let Our Teens FlyBy
With my whole being I believe in the abilities of my adult or nearly adult children to make wise choices for their lives. It is for this reason, I refrain from giving unsolicited advice. I am particularly careful when it comes to those monumental decisions.
I’m sure some of you parents can’t even believe I’m saying this. Aren’t we put on this earth to guide our children? To help them make wise choices? I say, yes to those, but I also believe that the way we make wise choices is by learning from the ones that weren’t so wise. Oh goodness, I still make choices that aren’t wise. And there are times I wish I could just look at someone and ask them to make some of those difficult decisions for me. But I can’t. And I have to live with the consequences of my decisions.
I thought my parents had a pretty good take on offering advice. With the exception of when I was a young teen and had gotten myself into a huge life transforming mess, they rarely spoke up with advice, unless I asked them for it. I am quite certain my parents believed in me. They believed in my ability to make rational decisions, and to be willing to accept the consequences of my behavior.
Some people may consider this to be more of a “hands off” parenting approach. On the contrary I think it’s more an “into the depths of their being” approach. When a parent is quick to advise a teen, it makes that teen feel like the parent doesn’t trust them. Hey, we may not! We may not have the proof that the teen can make right decisions. (Disclaimer – I’m not talking about teens who are addicted to drugs or other dangerous behavior) But our teen needs to know that we believe in them. We believe they will make the best choices for their lives. That means we can’t jump into their lives with “our” solution. They must wrestle within themselves to come up with the right thing to do. Oftentimes that means we have to sit by and watch our child fail at something.
I’ve never had one of my teens say, “Why didn’t you rescue me from that mistake?” When they realize they have made mistakes, my role as their parent is to love them through the mistake and encourage them in such a way that they know I believe in them and in their strength to persevere in spite of perhaps a lapse of judgement.
I’ve failed many times! I’ve made monumental mistakes! I’m even pretty sure I’ve made some major parenting mistakes. We all do!
When my oldest son turned 17 I told him that he had one more year of practice before becoming an official adult. I told him that he is transitioning into adulthood. From that moment forward, his decisions were his to make, with the consequences, being his to bear. But, that his last year was a practice for adulthood year. It would be a year kind of like a circus performer who learns to walk on a tightrope by walking close to the ground, then having a net to catch him if he falls. As I watched him make decisions with consequences that he wouldn’t like, I kept reminding him that I believed in him. I often reminded him of the scripture in Jer that talks about having a future and a hope. I told him that even those words were not written directly to him, that I believed them for his life. Mistake after mistake I saw him make. It was difficult to standby and watch as he made poor choices for his life. But I believed! Again these aren’t choices like drinking or drugs, they are more the day to day choices of how to spend his time, how to care for himself, etc. I resisted the urge on many occasions to preach to him. His responses were going to have to come from his heart. Sure, I could have enacted family legislation to create behavior modification, but how could that help him in the future when there wasn’t anyone there legislating him? I would rather see my child make those mistakes while still at home with the safety net beneath him. In just over a month from now, he will turn 18. I’m not going to send him out into the world at 18 simply because it’s some magic number. But I will expect adult behavior – and I believe that is what he will exhibit.
Do you have high expectations for your children? Or do you have high demands? You know, there is a difference. I expect that my children will make the right choices for their lives. Afterall it is their lives that depend on it!
One of my adult children is living at home with me. Recently she found herself faced with some difficult consequences resulting from her own behavior. I wanted to jump in with all the advice I could muster. I wanted to take “my little girl” and tell her how to make it all okay again. But I couldn’t. It wasn’t my place. Instead, I told her, “I believe in you. I believe you will make the best decision. You do not have to decide anything today. I’m here for you.” Then I stepped back and watched the miracle of a child – choosing the path for her adult life.
Sometimes the parenting our teens really need is a parent who says, “I believe in you!” – then we step back and watch as the child learns to fly.