I am the last parent to tell you to let your kids fly on their on…. Really. I have daughters in medical residency and in internship to complete a Ph.D. in psychology. Their father and I have moved them a total of 20 times since high school–I recently counted.
I know what is it to love a kid and want her to do well.
That being said, I think a lot of us struggle with knowing what to do–and NOT to do–for our kids. Much counts, of course, on how old a “kid” we’re talking about. (I realize, too, that we often get caught in the grandparent trap. Even if we know to get tough with adult children and stop rescuing them, we worry about their children. It doesn’t seem fair to get tough on little kids when they aren’t making the big choices.)
There are, however, some basic rules to help kids transition from naturally dependent beings to adults who are fully on their own:
1. Reasonable consequences
This is a biggie and it needs to start when your child is in diapers. I’m the last one to claim that the “reasonable” part of consequences is always clear. It isn’t, but we’ve taken on the role of parent, so we have to grapple with this. It is, too, an ever-changing definition. When our children were young, we guarded them closely against being snatched by bad people; when they get older, however, they get to date whoever they choose, even if we think these are “bad” people.
2. Follow-through and follow-through.
I can’t say this enough. Kids need to know you can be trusted. The only way they learn this is if you do what you say. Be very careful what you say. When my daughter was sixteen and secretly called into her job claiming to be sick(so she could ride around with her boyfriend), her father and I yanked her snazzy car (which she’d paid half to buy) and sent her back to work to face her boss…in the family car. This was a life-lesson she still talks about.
Being a loving parent means being willing to be mean, sometimes. I didn’t always believe them. Sometimes they lied. (I well remember the day my youngest daughter cried out for her elder sister to stop hitting her–just before I walked into the room and saw that her older sister was at least ten feet away from her. I didn’t beat her, I just remembered.) Their dad and I did, however, support them whenever we could. We had their backs, we just weren’t blind about it.
3. Let them make mistakes
Look back at your own life. You learned from mistakes. Sure, it wasn’t fun doing this, but we individuals need to learn the consequences of stupid choices. The earlier we learn this, the better we are at handling life. When my daughters used to watch court television shows with me, I always told them that if they killed someone, I wouldn’t go on the stand and beg for their lives.
Consequences are consequences.
The big choices in life need to be recognized. Kids need to know that there are some things their parents can help with and some they can’t. I’ve helped one child leave a bad marriage…but I never told her it was bad(even though I recognized this from the start). I just supported and loved her and she figured it out. She had the right to figure this out herself and she wouldn’t have listened to any cautioning from me.
By the way, this parenting thing is one of the hardest jobs in this life. All the stuff parenting requires is hard. Yes, there is tremendous joy, but don’t get so caught up in the frilly parts that you forget what a big undertaking it is.
I currently have a child living in Brooklyn. She takes the subway frequently and when her dad and I were there visiting recently a mentally-altered man rampaged up and down the subway platform, terrorizing those who were waiting. After we survived his assaultive behavior, our daughter recently asked her dad and I if we ever worried about her. Our immediate response was a resounding chorus–Hell, yes!!
I take pride, however, that she’s been in Brooklyn for 18 months and it just occurred to her to ask us this. She knows we believe in her. She is intelligent and brave and fierce. She can handle this…and we worry.
It’s part of the job.