In this issue we look at the seventh 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 in which they plan to live.
7. Wean your adolescent from “being parented” into inspired “self government”
If you want your child to become a self-reliant young adult, start training them before they leave home. As children get older, they need to learn how to make healthy and trustworthy decisions on their own. Parents often make the mistake of moving into controlling their children’s lives rather than allowing them to make mistakes.
They think if they control their child’s behavior and choices, they can keep them from making painful mistakes. Others use control because they know what is best for their children. However, as children move into adulthood, they have to separate, make their own mistakes, and find their own way in life.
Making all the decisions for your children can actually cripple them when they go out into the world. If young people don’t have experience in making decisions, they will look to others to protect them and make decisions for them. This means that they will either remain dependent upon the parent, or will become dependent on someone else. Dependency of any kind keeps people from being fully empowered and erodes self-esteem.
Another way parents control is through anger, criticism, and feelings of disappointment when their children don’t live up to their expectations. This brings on feelings of guilt and shame, and traps the child into performing in order to please their parents. Doing things to please others, leads to a loss of identity in the child, and also to feelings of low self-esteem because they can never do anything right.
Families, where one or another of the parents is unable to connect emotionally, set up another dynamic. In this type of environment children will do anything to try to get the love or approval they so desperately need. Children will abandon their own souls in order to get the love and sense of belonging they need for healthy survival.
Once I had a friend who went to law school to please her father. After law school, she took the board exams and joined her father’s law firm. After she won a near impossible law case, her father was able to give the praise he had withheld most of her life. When her father came into her office and gave her the praise for winning the case she said, “I have waited all of my life to hear those words from your lips. Thanks! And I quit!” Then she walked out and never practiced law again.
I know of another man who went to an Ivy League school to become a lawyer because he was smart and that’s what his dad wanted for him. After all the years of college, he became a carpenter because he felt much more comfortable working with his hands in an outdoor environment.
When children feel they can never do anything right, or feel overly controlled, they may resort to rebellion in an effort to get some control of their own lives. These types of children tend to become defiant against all authority figures. They spend much of their lives fighting against something rather than moving towards what they really want. As a result, they find it challenging to becoming the authority of their own lives. They spend most of their early years fighting or causing trouble of some kind.
Mistakes and natural consequences are important teachers. When parents move into control, they take away valuable lessons their children need to become strong and confident. When they react to their mistakes with anger that causes shame and blame, they miss the opportunity to guide their children in learning how to problem solve to get different results. It is healthier if you can own your feelings, and rather than reacting immediately, take some time to find out how you can find a healthier response.
Ideally, you want your children to start seeing how their choices and decisions impact their lives. That means allowing them to experience the consequences of their choices, both the rewards and the pain. You want them to learn that mistakes are a part of life and that they just need to find another way. As you do this, you move out of the “manager role” and begin to ease into the “consultant” role, and you teach them that they are responsible for their lives.
It’s important that both parents be unified in how they will respond to mistakes. If one or the other parent rescues, the child will not learn. Parents can benefit by creating a vision and defining the expectations before hand of how they will respond to their children. Puberty is a good time to put your plan into action. The timing matches the natural functions of brain development associated with becoming an adult. The more “cause and effect” the training and the clearer the parental boundaries, the better.
Put your intentions in writing. For example: I intend that my adult child will have the skills to have fulfilling relationships; independently sustain themselves; and pursue meaningful life experiences.” Make a checklist of the necessary skills, and then reward them with freedom (self-management opportunities) when they have mastered each skill.
Remember, problems are there to enrich us. When a problem arises, start by defining what the problem is. Look for at least two or three solutions to the problem that match the skill level of your child. Then before giving answers, help them to discover the solution themselves. In addition, don’t take on their emotions. They need the feelings to grow.
Celebrate your child’s successes and acknowledge failures as a path to growth. Our scholastic concept of grading has jeopardized our willingness to attempt difficult projects, because we fear failure. Failure is a small step towards success and is always present as a guide to discovering the best. Embrace it as a tool for wisdom.
One of the best suggestions we can offer is for you to remember the long-term vision. Do not get lost in the individual challenges, but keep the picture of what you are seeking to provide for your child: self-reliant independence, personal empowerment and a prepared and valuable world citizen.
About the Authors:
Randy and Colleen Russell direct Parent Work-shops for Empowering Young Adults and lead workshops and coaching for families and indiv-iduals. For more information call 208-255-2290 or visit www.empoweringyoungadults.com.