“There are two gifts we should give our children; one is roots and the other is wings.” – Unknown
As we hurtle toward the parenting finish line with our oldest child, who will start her high school years in the fall, I am mindful of the phases of parenting.
As parents, we are the gatekeepers of our kids’ childhood. We must protect it. But a counterbalancing truth is that we must not over-shelter our children as they enter their middle school and high school years, because adulthood is just around the bend and they need to be prepared.
Just as a newborn’s tiny fists are tightly clenched, we begin our journey as parents holding tightly to our children. In those first years, it is easy to feel all the elements of control. We control our babies’ and toddlers’ schedules completely. We control everything they eat. If they start running toward the street, we can easily pick up their little bodies and rein them in.
But eventually we realize that child-rearing is not about controlling or completely sheltering children. It’s about guiding and mentoring them as they become aware of hard truths and understand more of life’s realities. We must coach our children and enforce consequences to help them learn, rather than attempting to control them or keep them from the storms of the world.
I don’t think there are easy answers to when is an appropriate time to start allowing a child to roam beyond our carefully crafted shelters. This is something each family needs to wisely consider, based on each child’s unique personality and circumstances.
My experience is that our kids are a lot more resilient than we might initially think, and they are already aware of things happening in the broader world on some level. They appreciate our acknowledging that they are growing up and can be trusted with greater responsibilities and greater awareness. They crave having conversations about things that are awaiting them in the adult world.
Our family tends to err on the side of allowing our children to understand the truth of what is going on in the world, and then having age-appropriate conversations. Whenever our kids have a question, we always tell them the truth in an age-appropriate way.
The goal is to raise children who will can face the challenges of the real world and successfully govern themselves.
My friend Karen once commented on the idea of giving children freedom and enforcing consequences. She told her teenage daughter, “Someone will govern you. You will either learn to govern yourself, and make good choices, or I will have to step in and govern you.”
When I am tempted to completely inoculate my kids from the hard lessons in life, I soon realize how close the adult world is for them, without me in it to hold their hands. This knowledge has given me courage to release my grip a little more and give my kids room to experience more of life while they are still under my roof.
Most recently, we gave our oldest daughter a phone. It was something I knew was coming for many years and dreaded. The blessings of technology also bring many dangers to our kids’ fingertips.
But we finally got to the point where we felt a phone could be very useful, our daughter seemed wise in her understanding of the boundaries, and we felt it would be a good time to test her ability to use it in a mature way.
I am slowly releasing my grip, but still monitoring the situation, as I watch her taste some more freedom.
Sooner than I care to imagine—in just four short years—she will likely be far away at college, and I won’t be there at all.
My prayer is for wisdom to know when to shelter my kids and when to let them experience more of life—both good things and hard things, things that might involve making painful mistakes.
I think about the day I will launch my children into the world. Will they be strong enough? What am I doing today to adequately prepare them for their future adult life?
My friend Kim, who has already successfully launched several kids says, “One day, you realize that your job is done and all you have left to do is simply enjoy your adult kids.”
Getting ready to fly! (But we still have quite a few more years before this little guy leaves the nest.)
In the meantime, I am contemplating all of the transitions of parenthood—from holding tightly, to letting go gradually, to simply enjoying.
Photo Credit: iStock. Following image courtesy of author.