In this issue we look at the third step of the series for parents on how to empower and launch your child into adulthood. The key point from our introduction was that the underlying goal of healthy parenting is to prepare sons and daughters to be self-reliant, independent individuals who are at home on this planet and in the culture they plan to live in.
3. Make "child parenting" your job rather than your identity
When we become parents our lives change. We may change the car we drive, the house we live in, change jobs or careers and even cut our hair. Our primary focus becomes providing for our children and doing what is best for them.
It is important to shift your parenting style to match the developmental stage your child is going through. In the beginning, babies are dependent upon their parents. Soon they learn how to dress and feed themselves, the first steps toward self-reliance.
In childhood parents provide a safe environment for the child to bond, explore and start to develop an ego. This can be a precious and fun phase. Adolescence brings intense necessary temporary multi-chaotic change, not just to the young person but to your parenting role. It may seem that overnight our children become strangers. This is when a wise adult mentor is needed to augment the parent role.
Each of these stages requires a different set of skills as we prepare our children for self-reliance. Although parenting a teen may seem to require as much vigilance as raising a small child, the needs are different. The ideal is to increase the teen's healthy self-management and self-reliant skills, while holding a stable family structure for their important changes to occur.
This may mean letting them feel the pain and consequences of their own decisions. The sooner a young person experiences that her choices have direct consequences the sooner she will become a responsible adult. Most of us do not want our children to suffer, but sometimes pain from unwise decisions is necessary to shift beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. This may be where your parent role of protector needs to be modified to teach cause and effect, rather than attempting to use control, guilt or shame.
Once a child becomes a legal adult at 18, the roles change even more. If the parent insists on maintaining the identity of "managing a child" they disempower the young adult. Your job is not to control your child's future or get them to accomplish things you wish you would have done. It's more about making sure they have the tools and experiences that allow them to excel in their own passions and expertise.
Your new job, as a parent, is to model a healthy, balanced life worth emulating. They need to see you as an individual now with wants, needs, adventures and passions that are separate from them.
Move out of the protector, provider role and inspire them to use their own inner resources to solve problems. It is not your job or identity to fix the problem. This may require you losing your "spoken or unspoken expectations" for their life. Let them know that you will still love them no matter what path they choose. Also, teach them that mistakes are an important part of honing desires and skills. Making mistakes does not mean that they are a "failure" and it doesn't mean that you are either.
Remember the biggest desire your son or daughter has is the need to be seen, heard and appreciated for who they are. This requires quality time and strategic mentoring. Keep the parenting job relevant to the expanding young person's progress toward healthy self-reliant independence.
About the Authors:
Randy and Colleen Russell direct Parent Workshops for Empowering Young Adults and lead workshops and coaching for families and individuals. For more information call 208-255-2290 or visit www.empoweringyoungadults.com.