Tag Archive for independence

Letting Go One Step at a Time

Our youngest daughter moved out of our house and into her college room today. I won’t get to tell her “good night” at the end of each day, hear her come down the stairs in the morning to start her day, or enjoy our “Tuesday Daddy-Daughter Days” now.  On the other hand, I won’t have to ask her to put her stuff away every day or work my way through her leftovers in the fridge. I will really miss her daily presence in my life. Still, I have to say, it’s not the first time I’ve had to watch her take a step away from me and toward independence. This is just another step in a series of steps that began many years ago with the words, “No, I do” as she pulled away from me to zip her own coat. Some of her steps have been sure-footed, some hesitant. Most have proven more difficult for me than they were for her. She has learned the pace most comfortable for her in stepping toward independence. She has grown more confident in her abilities. Me…well, I’m just a “therapist with separation anxiety” (her words, by the way). I don’t completely agree with her assessment, but I have to admit…I have experienced some separation anxiety with each step she has taken. Overall, watching my daughter mature and walk toward independence has increased my joy. But, I have experienced some separation anxiety…and, I have learned at least two things from this adventure of letting go.

  1. I learned the importance of observing my daughter closely. Observation builds a foundation for understanding our children’s strengths and interests. It allows us to learn about their competencies and their developmental abilities. Observation allowed me to see what my daughter had learned, what she already knew, and what she was ready to learn and do. With all this knowledge, I was better able to present opportunities that fit my daughter’s readiness to learn while still challenging her to grow. It allowed me to keep the environment conducive to her abilities. Observe your child closely and you will learn the same things about your children. Even learning all this, you might struggle to learn the second lesson. I know I did.
  2. I learned to trust my daughter to initiate and explore herself and her world. This meant I had to learn to believe in her competence to learn. Sure, I supported her exploring and learning (just check my pocket book), but I had to trust her enough to let her go, to take a step away, and explore more and more independently. I had to trust her ability to manage the discomfort of trying something new with only my distant watchful eye for support. I had to trust her to learn from her mistakes without rescuing her…or sheltering her from future mistakes. I had to trust her to learn her limitations and strengths. And, as she did, she became more confident. Her judgment improved. And, I could trust her more. Trusting your child to takes steps toward independence throughout life will do the same for you as well.

Observing will increase your ability to trust. As you trust, you will observe all the more and rejoice in the growth you see. All the while, you will find yourself letting go one step at a time and trusting each step of the way…even if it does still remain difficult to watch them grow up and leave home.

The Healthy Balance of Family

Establishing a healthy family is a balancing act. It requires finding the best blend between diametrically opposed traits. For instance, a healthy family finds balance in at least these three areas:

  1. A healthy family lives in the balance between structure and freedom. Too much structure and a family becomes rigid. Spontaneous fun and laughter disappear. Family members feel trapped and imprisoned by the constant demands of an imposed and unbending structure. Too much freedom, on the other hand, and a family experiences chaos. Limits and boundaries become broken or even disappear. Predictability flies out the window and, as a result, family members experience insecurity, confusion, and even fear. Healthy families find a balance between these two extremes by establishing a flexible structure. Flexible structure provides a daily family schedule and daily routines while leaving room for down time and unstructured play. It leaves open the possibility of making adjustments as situations and circumstances change. A flexible structure provides the best of both worlds: structure and freedom.
  2. A healthy family lives in the balance between connection and independence. Too

    much connection and family members becomes entangled and boxed in. They feel intruded upon, unable to develop their distinct interests or pursue their individual opportunities. No one can develop their individuality, their unique character. Each person in the family will even experience great difficulty establishing their identity. Move too far toward independence, however, and family members find themselves alone, isolated, and without support. They have no one with whom they can enjoy life, no one to help them develop as unique individuals. We need relationships to discover our own identity. Healthy families find balance between these two extremes by developing interdependence. Interdependence empowers family members to engage one another and enjoy individual time. Relationships become the springboard for individual identity development by providing a safe harbor from which to explore interests and ideas as well as a safe haven in which to find comfort and reassurance. Interdependent relationships become the place of safety, comfort, encouragement, and empowerment for each individual and the family as a whole.

  3. A healthy family lives in the balance between “mine” and “yours.” Too much focus on “mine” and family members becomes self-absorbed and self-centered. Stinginess undermines sharing. Greediness leads to excessive competition for resources that everyone perceives as limited. But, when the focus turns completely to “yours,” at least one person becomes a doormat. After time, she will feel taken for granted and used. Eventually, she will rebel. She may lash out in anger or shut down in defeat, bitter and resentful. The whole family suffers as a result. Healthy families balance “mine” and “yours” with “ours.” Finding “ours” is no easy task. It requires a growing knowledge of each family member. It demands a long-term vision, a willingness to postpone “my own” agenda and even sacrifice for the good of the family. In short, finding “ours” requires love and acceptance. “Ours” presupposes differences but learns to tolerate, accept, and even celebrate those differences as opportunities to learn, love, and serve.

How does your family balance these three areas?

Cut the Puppet Strings

Children are not our puppets. We cannot control them. (Learn more in Children Are Not Our Puppets.) In fact, if we hold our children on puppet strings, we do them a disservice. We interfere with their healthy self-image, intimate relationships, and ability to assertively take a stand for what they believe. What can you do as a parent to cut the puppet strings and let go? What can you do to keep your children safe while not controlling them? These five actions can help you let go of over-control while encouraging your children to mature.

  1. grandfather and granddaughter with computer at homeGet curious. Encourage conversation with your children. Learn about their interests and opinions by asking open-ended questions. Learn about their friends, their dreams, their fears, their hobbies. Our children are fascinating! Get curious and learn about them by talking with them often.
  2. Get your own life. Don’t live your life through your children. Don’t encourage your children to fulfill your dreams. Get your own life and let your children have their life. That will mean allowing them to become involved in activities without you. It will mean allowing them to meet other adults they can look up to and go to for advice. Let your children have their own life may mean allowing them to have no interest at all in something you find exciting. Let your children have a life that is separate from your life.
  3. Be consistent and flexible. Children need us to be consistent in our love for them and our expectations of them. They need to know the rules and the consequences of breaking those rules. As they grow, they benefit from knowing the reasoning behind the rules as well. Our children also need us to be flexible. They need to have the opportunity to talk about the rules and give their explanation for why they believe an exception or a change is called for as they mature. They need to know we will listen and consider their opinion. They need to know we are willing to make changes in the rules or expectations when they make sense and show maturity. We grow as they grow. The rules changes as we all mature.
  4. Accept their choices. Children and adolescents need to make choices. Let them make age appropriate choices. You may not let your preschooler choose where to go for vacation, but let them choose between two outfits to wear for the day. As your children grow, let them have more choice and responsibility. They might make choices you disagree with. Sometimes these choices are merely opinion, like whether to wear a pullover shirt or a button up shirt. Other times their choices will just be wrong. When these wrong choices are not dangerous or life threatening, accept them. They will suffer the consequences. Let them. We learn when we make wrong choices and experience the results.
  5. Lean in. No matter what your children do, lean in to your relationship with them. Our children really need to know we want a relationship with them when they do suffer consequences for bad choices. They need to know our love is unconditional. When they do something that makes you proud, lean in to the relationship. When they make a mistake or fail, lean in to the relationship. When they disobey and you have to discipline them, lean in to the relationship. For love covers a multitude of sins.

 

These five practices can help you cut the puppet strings and train your children to become real boys and girls. No, they will become even more than that. They will become mature and responsible young men and women.

Parenting Advice to Parents of Teens…From Teens

Parenting teens is tough. They often seem to believe they have all the answers. They “know” exactly what they need, exactly how a parent can best parent, and exactly what their parent is doing wrong. Well, I decided to listen in on the vast wisdom of a few teens and learn some of their parenting tips. Actually, they did offer some pretty good advice. So, I’m sharing their advice with you—advice to parents straight from the teen’s mouth.

  • Cute Teenage Girl with Serious Expression“Get a hobby.” Healthy teens are moving toward independence. They want to establish their own identity, to individuate and become their “own person.” So, they begin to spend more time with friends and less time with parents. The joy of having a parent by their side now becomes the annoyance of “my parent, the stalker.” Don’t misunderstand this advice. Teens still need parents. Even more surprising, teens want their parents to remain available and attentive to their needs. They need a safety net only their parents can provide. Remain available to your teen. Let your teen know you are available. Talk with them. But “get a hobby.” Do not make them the sole focus of your life. Invest in your own interests and friends. Have fun with other adults.
  • “Quit interrogating me.” Many teens have told me they “can’t stand” being asked “a lot of questions.” They don’t want to walk through the door into a barrage of questions: “How are you? Where did you go? What did you do? How was school? Did you remember to put gas in the car? How come you look unhappy? Are you OK? What’s wrong?” Quit asking so many questions and simply greet your teens when they come home. Ask one, maybe two questions. Tell them about your Give them space and allow for some silence. Develop the conversation of friendship with your teen—one which involves both people sharing information about themselves and their day. Honor your teen by trusting them to reveal information to you in their time and in their way while you simply keep the door open.
  • “Let me be me.” Too many teens feel compared to a parent, brother, sister, neighbor, or “me when I was your age….” Comparisons leave us, and our teens, feeling unaccepted or “not good enough.” In response, our teen might just give up and say, “Nothing I do is good enough anyway.” Comparisons hinder our teens’ self-esteem. Instead of making comparisons, simply acknowledge what your teens do. Accept their level of ability, acknowledge their interests, and praise their efforts to improve. You will watch your teen grow in maturity as a result.
  • “It’s my life. Let me make my own mistakes.” Of course we do not want our teen to make a life threatening mistake. However, most mistakes are more of an inconvenience than a true threat. Teens learn from their mistakes, just like we did. So, let your teen make some mistakes. Keep the lines of communication open so you can warn them of the dangers. Remain available to offer guidance. Rather than telling them “I told you so,” show empathy for the discomfort and negative results your teens experience when they make the poor choice. Doing so will allow your teen to learn from that mistake…just like you and I did.
  • “Life with you is boring.” The teen brain is undergoing a whole remodeling. During remodeling, teens’ “reward center” operates differently. They need a greater thrill, a bigger risk, to activate the reward center. But, when it is activated, they experience a greater rush, a bigger thrill, and are ready to do it again. In other words, what excites you and I will often bore our teen. So, they seek the next thrill; and when they find that thrill they get a rush of chemicals in their brain’s reward center. We don’t want that thrill to be life threatening or dangerous. Taking the time to know your teen is a healthy practice to help you manage their risky behavior. Take time to discover your teens’ likes and interests. Gently guide them toward taking healthy risks based on their interests. Help them learn how to find that rush of excitement while remaining safe.

Believe me, teens have a lot more to say about parenting, but I didn’t want to overwhelm anybody. Just let these 5 pieces of teen parenting advice sink in and maybe we can learn more “teen wisdom” in the future.

5 Ways to Check the Teen Attitude at the Door

If you have a pre-teen or teen, you have probably encountered “the attitude.” I can imagine all those who have a teen nodding their head in agreement as you recall the condescending stare, rolling eyes, exasperating sigh, impatient shifting of weight, and sarcastic tone of voice. If you are like me, just thinking about it raises your blood pressure. As hard as it is to believe, this new “attitude” does mean that your child is reaching a new level of maturity and independence…and that’s a positive thing. The “teen attitude” is often an attempt to assert some independence from the parental control they experienced and needed as a child. However, their brains are still not fully developed. The emotional networks of their brain are more developed than the planning networks of their brain. As a result, their words come out laced with sarcasm and anger while revealing little forethought into whether this helps or hinders them reaching their goal. Sarcasm, by the way, also shows growing mental ability. They have matured to the level of knowing that tone impacts the subtle meaning of what is said, expressing a “double meaning.” They have not learned how to plan ahead in using that new understanding, but…. (Sarcasm, a new mental skill…woohoo, let’s celebrate.)

In their growing desire to become “their own person,” our teens want to know how everything will affect them. They have also learned how to look at the world through someone else’s eyes. Combine perspective taking (a fairly new ability for pre-teens), wanting to know how everything affects me, a well-developed emotional brain, and an underdeveloped planning brain…and you get a teen overly concerned with every little blemish or misplaced hair.  This translates into “attitude,” complaining about appearance, getting overly upset about seemingly small issues, thinking the world revolves around their schedule…you know the drill.

Even though a teen attitude is a normal part of their development, we still want to help them grow beyond that attitude. We still want to help them learn to use their planning brain, to shift concern from themselves to others, and to speak respectfully. Understanding some of the origins of their “attitude” merely helps us not take it personal, remain calm (rather than throttle them as they roll their eyes), and discipline with love. With that in mind, here are 5 ways to help your teen mature, in spite of their attitude.


1.   Talk to your teen when they show their “attitude.” Don’t get an attitude back. Take a deep breath and respond with love. Ask them what is going on in their life. Sometimes an attitude flows out of frustration over problems at school, hurt feelings in peer relationships, or fear about some future event. Sometimes all we need to do to lose the attitude is listen…listen well.


2.   When possible, ignore the attitude…especially when your teen still follows through with your requests and rules. Realize that some attitude is normal and even beneficial in helping your teen establish healthy independence. Knowing this, don’t respond to them when they approach you with an attitude. As you ignore the attitude, your teen will learn that they do not get what they want when they ask with “attitude.” ignore the evil eye, the rolling eye, the exasperated sigh…realize that these too shall pass.  


3.   If your teen’s attitude turns to name-calling, defiance, or disrespect, discipline. Attitude is fleeting, disrespect needs adjusting. Be prepared to discipline. Know the natural consequences and calmly discipline in response to disrespect and defiance. Stand strong to say, “No, I don’t want to lend my car to someone who treats me so disrespectfully.” Or, “No, I won’t give you money for the movie because you didn’t do the chores you said you would do.”


4.   Point out sarcasm when it occurs and explain how sarcasm affects the person hearing it…like you. Encourage them to say what they feel and want directly, politely, and without sarcasm. Even if they don’t get what they want, the discussion will still prove more satisfying for both parties involved. Oh…and watch your own sarcasm. It is hard to end sarcasm in your teen if they hear it from you all the time!


5.   Avoid being all things to your teen. You do not have to serve as cook, chauffer, bank, tutor, clothes washer, secretary, water bottle washer, alarm clock, and schedule manager for your teen. Sure, you will help in all these areas, but teach your teen to do these tasks independently as well. Doing so will strengthen that planning brain. Put them in charge of some meaningful household chores to teach them that they have a role in keeping “our home” running smoothly.


5 tips to help deal with the teen attitude. If you’d like more information on the teen brain, check out
A Parent’s Guide to the Teen Brain. And, keep reading our blog for more ideas.

Get Your Own Life! Leave Me Alone!

Have you ever felt like your child just wanted you out of their life? You want to be a good parent and remain involved with them, but they just seem to want to do things independently…on their own. Let’s face it: they want to do things without you! I know one of the main goals of parenting is to raise a child so they can live on their own…without me. Still, we may feel hurt or even jealous when our children start to choose friends over us, “light up” for their peers but look like a curmudgeon old scrooge around us, or proudly inform us, “No, I don’t want you to go…I want to go by myself.” Here are a few tips to help you think about and prepare for those times when you feel your child say, “Get out of my life!”

·         Children of all ages need their own life. They need a life independent from their parent’s life. When a child becomes the sole focus of their parent’s life, they feel too much pressure to perform. They may fear disappointing their parents by not doing “good enough.” This fear of falling short of a parent’s expectation while always under the parent’s watchful eye will limit their exploration and, as a result, their growth. So, parents do their children a great favor by allowing their children to have a life independent of them. In their independent life, children can try different activities and perhaps even fail without feeling as though they have disappointed the watchful eye of their parent. In practical terms, this means letting your children become involved in some activities without you.

·         Parents need a life independent of their children. Let’s face it: our children only live with us for 18-25 years before they move out and start their own families. Hopefully, we will become involved in their new family, but probably not on a daily basis. We need a life of our own—a life that will continue after our children leave for college. We may raise children for even 25 years, but we hope our marriage lasts well beyond that; so we need to maintain our connection with our spouse. Go on date nights and spend romantic weekends together without your children. Keep your connection with your spouse strong. Also, maintain connections with friends and coworkers. Remember to get together with the “guys” or the “ladies” for a night out. Have friends over to your home for a night of games. Go out for dinner with another couple. Whatever you choose to do, keep the connection with your adult friends and family strong. Strive to become the couple in this commercial (with or without the car).

·         Finally, balance your children’s need for increasing independence with your need to know they’re safe. This can prove a difficult balance to attain. We do not want to over-control or micromanage our children’s lives. Helicopter parents interfere with their children’s growing independence. We really are not our children’s best friend—they generally pick a peer to fill that role. At the same time, we don’t want to throw our children to the wolves either. We have to find a balance…a way to maintain a parent-child connection that allows them to grow independent while we increasingly trust God to keep them safe. We teach them safety skills and trust they have learned those lessons.
 
With these three patterns firmly in place, we can navigate our changing parent-child relationship as our children grow into independent adults. Together, we will learn to negotiate the balance between intruding and participating, nagging and advising, suffocating and remaining involved.

The Lazy Days of Summer

Remember those school-free days of summer you enjoyed as a child? I could not wait until summer arrived and I could relax during the long, lazy days of summer. I could swim, ride my bike, play with friends, go on a family vacation, sleep, and walk around town…the list seemed endless. Well, the list of possibilities seemed endless when summer began. Sometime in July, though, I began to get bored. My friends went on vacation at different times than I did. Riding my bike to the same old place day after day just lost its luster. Although I enjoy my sleep, you cannot sleep all the time. Besides, without air conditioning in the house it generally got too hot to enjoy sleep. That’s when I would hear it…the same old line every summer. I would approach my mother and say, “Mom, I’m bored.” She would look at me and smile before saying, “Well, find something to do.” That was not the answer I was looking for. I was hoping for a little relief…some direction…some sage advice that would direct me to the next exciting, over-the-top activity. But no, I’d just hear a simple, “Well, find something to do.”
 
As I look back, I realize what a great favor my mother did for me when she told me “find something to do.” She let me know that my boredom did not control me. I controlled it. It was under my power to be bored or not to be bored. Psychologists call the sense that “I have some control over events in my life” an internal locus on control. By throwing the responsibility for my boredom back on me rather than giving me something to do, my mother instilled an internal locus on control in me. This sense of control came in handy when I went to college. I knew that I had the control needed to manage my time. I could allow myself some boredom or I could find something to do. I did not have to rely on my peers for activities. I could decide for myself.
 
“Well, find something to do” also encouraged me to discover, get creative, and take some healthy risks. Sometimes I would do something unusual when allowed to “find something to do.” Maybe I could go for a bike ride, call a friend, mow the grass, go for a walk, or build mud pies. Many times, I chose to walk or ride my bike. In the process, I found interesting spiders, unusual leaves, and short cuts (adventures to a middle school child) to various places. I found my first record store while “finding something to do.” I learned how to “jump” my bike off a ramp and how to throw little green apples off the end of a stick. I found friends to ice skate with and I learned to skate backwards. I discovered what I could do, what I needed help with, and what I didn’t even want to try because my mother was kind enough to tell me to “find something to do.”
 
I also learned to entertain myself. I learned that I could have fun listening to music, playing music, reading, building, creating (I have to admit, my parents were less than happy with some of my creations—like the washtub bass I built), or just walking through the neighborhood watching people. I also learned that it is alright to be bored once in a while. Boredom did not kill me. In fact, boredom created the space for me to think and contemplate the world and the people in the world.
 
I realize we do not want to leave our children to their boredom all the time. But, boredom has its place…just as supervision and guidance do. Boredom encourages the development of many positive traits, like an internal locus of control, independent decision-making, discovery, time-management, and creativity. These traits come in handy when our children are faced with the peer pressures of high school and the sudden freedom of college. So, do your children a favor this summer. When they approach you to say, “I’m bored,” don’t tell them what to do. Don’t schedule their every waking moment. Simply reply by saying, “Excellent! Now you have a great opportunity to find something to do.”

5 Tips for the Dirtiest Job of Parenting

I love to watch “Dirty Jobs” with Mike Rowe. “Dirty Jobs” gives us a glimpse of dirty jobs that most of us never knew existed and would avoid if possible, even though they contribute to our life. Parenting involves some dirty jobs—jobs like changing diapers after an “especially explosive episode” or cleaning a toddler after he eats his first cupcake. I recall a particularly dirty episode in parenting my daughter. I was holding my daughter over my head, pretending to make her fly, when she threw up…right into my open mouth. These are dirty jobs. There is one parenting job, however, that will most likely not make the “Dirty Job” cut. This dirty job may well be the most difficult and arduous job of all. I am talking about the job of letting our children go.  It begins early in life, as early as their first steps. Remember when you started to help your 3-year-old zip up their coat and they looked you straight in the eye to say, “I do!” Your child was telling you to “let go” even then. The steps we take in the process of letting go only grow larger as our children get older. From watching our children leave our side to attend first grade…to trusting them to resolve simple conflicts without our input… to dropping them off at college, letting go grows more demanding as our children mature. 
 
Letting go is a positive parenting goal though. We instinctively teach our children to make decisions independent of peer pressure. We encourage them to pursue independent interests and goals. We cautiously step back and allow them to independently learn from their mistakes. We even admire their independence, most of the time. When their independent decision seems contrary to our individual goals, we may unjustifiably become upset. When they decide to pursue some career outside of our dream for them, we mistakenly question their independent wisdom. When they want to go out with friends rather than us, we wrongly perceive it as personal rejection. Perhaps most difficult of all, when we see their independent decisions leading to simple, but painful, consequences, we jump in to save them, rather than trust them to learn, from their mistakes. This “letting go” really is a “dirty job;” but, there are some basic skills that can help make it a little easier.
     1.      Put aside your dreams and expectations. Look at your children; study them to find their “natural bent,” their natural talent, personality, and ability. Nurture those unique attributes. Take the time to step into their world of interests and develop an appreciation for those interests. The more you know your children, the more comfortable you will feel “letting them go.”

2.      Connect your children with other adults–youth leaders, teachers, mentors, or extended family. Step back and allow these adults to nurture your children’s talent in ways you never could. These adults will also be able to tell your children things that they will not hear from you. You will find your children coming home excited about something a teacher told them while you think, “I told you that 2 months ago.” Sometimes, parents become jealous of the influence other adults have with their children. After all, “I used to have that influence.” Remember, you still do have that influence. It may seem as though your children no longer listen to you, but they do. You will hear other adults talking about what your child said and you will recognize your words coming from your child’s mouth. So, rather than become jealous, be grateful that there are other positive influences in your child’s life. Take time to thank them personally.

3.      Provide your children opportunities to expand their independence. Let them make choices. When they are young teens, let them participate in decision like which night will be family night and which night they can spend with friends. Let them choose whether to watch a movie with you or with friends. Encourage them to seek the advice of a mentor in addition to input from you. Allow them to take sponsored trips with trusted groups such as those at your church, school, scouting organization, etc. Encourage their involvement in positive activities outside of your presence. As they show wisdom and maturity in those decisions and actions, allow them more opportunities.

4.      Allow your child to have time independent of family. This time will increase with age. A toddler needs constant supervision. However, as children mature, they make more independent decisions, engage in more peer related activities, and define their individual life more clearly. They will spend less time with family and more time in pursuit of their individual lives. A parent’s role changes from one of control to influence. In order to have influence, we must give up control.

5.      Give up control and pick up trust. Trust the work you did as a parent. Trust that you have instilled positive values and decision-making skills in your child. Trust that they have experienced your love and will always feel safe to return to that love when they need to. Trust that God will bring people into their lives who will continue to provide a positive influence to them. Trust your children’s growing level of wisdom and maturity, nurtured by childhood years of loving discipline and instruction from you.
 
By the time our children leave for college, they need the skills to independently manage their decisions, time, and relationships. They begin growing toward that independence from the moment they learn to walk. Join them in the process. Work toward the goal of independence. It’s a “dirty job,” but someone has to do it.
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