We have developed an unhealthy sense of self worth between our sons and daughters success and happiness, and our value as parents. It isn't productive for either of us; in fact, it's contributing undue stress and pressure on both generations in our country.
"I just want my son/daughter to be happy and productive; what's wrong with that?!"
Nothing. We love our kids, and it's only natural that we want them to be happy and successful as they grow into adults, the problem arises out of a narrow definition of what being "happy" and "successful" looks like to us. In many instances parents set unrealistic expectations and some others do more damage than good by thwarting kid's mistakes (or the natural consequences of their kid's actions) in an attempt to "help" them achieve what just may not be meant to be.
Because it's our vision for their future; not theirs.
Adolescents [defined as age 10-25 years of age] make mistakes so they can learn, and because it is a natural part of this stage of development. It is also a time when they are more willing to take risks. Our sons and daughters will not learn and grow as individuals if we bail them out of the challenges (big or small) they create as a result of the choices they make.
The growth (on our part) is getting to a place where we're okay with that. A place where we can extricate ourselves from the equation of feeling like what they achieve is a direct result of our actions and the unconscious desire to pat ourselves on the back when (if) they come through for us.
Isn't it our job as parents to push our kids? My parent's pushed me...look how I turned out. I'm grateful they rode my butt!
There's a definite distinction between pushing and supporting and encouraging our kids.
Pushing looks (and feels) like anxiety/stress on your part because you are more invested in the outcome than they are. What it looks like from their end may include defiance, being uncooperative, their being unwilling to talk, and likely stress/sadness that you aren't seeing because you are too focused on trying to get them to do what you want them to do, or what you feel is in their best interest.
Support and encouragement looks (and feels) like working together, with your agenda and feelings at bay, to come up with a strategy they can be excited about in helping them achieve what speaks to their being, setting aside the need to compare yourselves with other families in order to create a happy, successful, uniquely yours environment where YOUR children can thrive and you can actually enjoy watching them grow during this awesome stage of their lives.
This is not about you; it's about them.
Let me share some specific (real-life) examples of what I mean by the difference between being over invested/pushing, and being supportive/encouraging...
- Your college freshman is (underage) drinking and using drugs on a recreational basis on a campus that is a plane ride away. You know this, but haven't really addressed it because hey, kids will be kids, right? She gets picked up for possessing a fake i.d. and carrying a minor amount of marijuana. She is arrested and you get a call informing you of the situation...what would you do? (a) bail her out and give her an earful about the potential of losing her scholarship award and how could she be so stupid, then you go ahead and call the school to try and smooth things over for her... or, (b) tell your daughter you love her and you are sorry she's in the situation, the fine for the charges will be coming from her savings account and this is the one and only time (meaning it, of course) that you will be on the receiving end of this kind of phone call. The scholarship award doesn't get mentioned because she'll know it's her job to figure that out.
- It's second semester of your son's junior year in high school. He doesn't have a clue where he'd like to go to college...or if he even wants to do so. So far, taking him on campus tours is harder than getting his wisdom teeth pulled. His grades are decent; but he's got no idea what field he might be interested in and knows college is going to cost a lot of money. You went to Big Name University and have always envisioned your son attending there as well. When he tells you he's decided to take a year off and work full time, before taking the next step in his education, what do you do? (a) Tell him there's no way that's going to happen, he'll be applying to YOUR school pronto, or at the very least go to community college for a year before heading to that campus...or, (b) Tell him you support his decision, but if he's going to continue to live at home while working he will be paying a reasonable rent/food amount per month, and will continue to respect the rest of the house rules (such as curfew, chores) as long as he's there.
- Your out-of-state, sophomore in college daughter is barely hanging on to her mediocre grades, she refuses to pick up the phone when you call, and conversation through text is erratic at best. She's dating someone you don't care for, you believe this is contributing to her down slide. You pay her tuition, not to mention her cell phone bill, and send her a monthly stipend for "extras." When you do have contact with your daughter she's defensive, and if she doesn't like what you're saying she hangs up on you. What would you do in this situation? (a) Call her and leave a scathing message telling her she is an entitled, unworthy, spoiled brat and she will go nowhere in life if she doesn't get her act together, then threaten to cut all financial ties...or (b) If text is the best form of communication at the moment, send her one that begins by letting you know you love her and see that she is desiring space for her emerging independence. Let her know you will be giving her the space and also the financial responsibility that comes along with it if the two of you cannot find a way to connect and work out the current relationship challenges. Then you follow through, based on her response.
Leading our families with courage and love becomes much easier when we've chosen to develop our boundaries as individuals, in the role of parent, and together as a family unit. This starts with our being crystal clear about our thoughts/words/actions and how they affect others.
I am reminded of a quote very dear to my heart by Neil Postman..."Children are the messages we send to a time we will not see." My question(s) for you today include...
What kind of messages do you want to send into the world?
What about your life and personal experience needs attention and healing in order for your children to be able to develop into their own calling with your loving guidance?
If you understood the relationship you have with your children now will affect their parenting what would stop you from making the changes that will alter the generational patterns that have been handed down to you?
Parents of today hold the key to changing what and how family looks TODAY, and in the future.