We parents become so preoccupied with our children's welfare that we sometimes forget a truly responsible teenager also has a conscience and a vision.
We begin raising children with 100 percent responsibility for their lives. However, if we raise them well, at the end of adolescence, we parents are left with no more than 49 percent.
So for roughly 19 years, our role is to orchestrate the transfer -- the letting go -- of at least 51 percent of our responsibility. Here is the acid test: Is our child becoming more attentive and concerned about his/her future than we are? If so, our parenting is going well.
We parents must continually address this critical letting go issue. Otherwise, we may stunt our children's growth, because they have a fear of growing up, and if we don't let go, they will tend to hang on to us as their safety net. We need to gradually relinquish responsibility for our children's lives to them by encouraging their initiatives, assigning weekly chores and holding them accountable for their actions -- both good and bad.
Parents' inability to let go of children is a huge problem in our society. We parents take far more responsibility for our children's growth and decision-making than we should, particularly when our children fall off track. As a result, children become dependent upon parental support in important areas where they should be learning to depend upon themselves.
Why is letting go so hard? Of course we are deeply concerned about our children's progress. But, in addition, focusing on our children's problems lets us avoid examining deeper growth issues in our own lives. This is particularly noticeable and problematic when Junior is acting out. His misbehavior and/or disrespect put the growth of all other family members on hold. Parents (and siblings, too) think, If Junior would just straighten out, our family would be fine. This attitude not only gives all other family members a free pass, it unwittingly puts the most irresponsible family member at the center of (if not in control of) the entire family!
The more we parents try to help Junior, the less Junior needs to help himself -- the key to the real solution. At a deeper level, we parents understand this, but under pressure, our concern for Junior's welfare overwhelms our better judgment.
So, how do we turn the situation around? By recognizing that in the taking-hold-and-letting-go process, taking hold precedes letting go. We parents must first turn our attention to our own lives and take hold of our own growth issues and challenges. In doing so, we not only empower ourselves to effectively determine where our parental responsibilities end and Junior's begin, we also model for Junior how to take hold of his own life.
The power of this taking hold (and then letting go) action may appear too simple to be true. But it works. It turns over to Junior his true responsibilities, and in so doing, sends a parental message of confidence that he can do it. If we don't properly let go, we are conveying the message that we doubt Junior can do it.
When my daughter-in-law was 15 years old, she was egged on by friends to take the family car. She ended up hitting a parked car and leaving the scene of the accident. She returned home with a police officer waiting for her. Her step-father tossed a telephone book to her, saying, "You're going to need a lawyer." She worked all summer to pay for the damages and the lawyer, but she calls it one of her most important growing experiences. She now oversees both Hyde boarding schools.
Our children can learn a great deal from their mistakes -- if we let them.
Next week: Part 6, Parent by Example