Tag Archive for launching

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.

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.

A Therapist with Separation Anxiety

My wife and I are both therapists. We love our work, but there are drawbacks when it comes to as psychobabble) and they turn it back on us from time to time. Let me give you a brief example. My wife and I left our children at home overnight for the first time a couple of weeks ago. They were ecstatic…and practically pushed us out the door. The more they pushed, the more I voiced concern. My youngest daughter just rolled her eyes. Just for fun—you know, trying to get a laugh—I decided to call the house when we were about two miles from home. My youngest daughter saw my name on the caller ID and answered the phone. Our conversation was brief and I tried not to laugh the whole time we talked. Our conversation went something like this:
“What Daddy?”
“Just calling to check in,” I teased. “Are you OK? Is everything going well?”
“Dad, you just left 2 minutes ago! What, are you a therapist with separation anxiety?”
There it was…psychobabble turned against me. Although her comment was funny, it made me think. Parents raise children to let them go. That may well be one of the hardest aspects of parenting. We invest time, energy, material resources, and emotions into raising our children and teaching them to become responsible, independent adults…then, we let them go. Maybe my daughter is wiser and more mature than I like to admit. Maybe there is a little separation anxiety.
Of course, that process of “letting go” doesn’t happen overnight. It begins early, earlier than most of us really like. And, “letting go” is usually initiated by our children. They initiate it by running off to play with friends at the playground rather than letting us push them on the swing…or, listening to their 3rd grade soccer coach more than they listen us, even though the coach says the same thing we do. These periods of “letting go” expand to include weeks away at camp, long secretive phone calls with friends, going out on dates with people we have minimal knowledge about, gaining a driver’s license…all steps in letting go and learning to accept a little “separation anxiety.” Throughout this process, a successful parent moves from control to influence in their child’s life. Rather than forcing our children to do things our way, we slowly learn to loosen our grip and trust that they will follow the principles we have taught them. Rather than abandoning them to their mistakes because “they are leaving us,” we support them and offer loving influence and encouragement while they make their choices. We surrender control over our children’s lives and give away any control over how they use the gifts we have given them—the gifts of our time, energy, emotional involvement, and wisdom…our life itself. We trust them to make good use of those gifts. We pray that God will guide them in using those gifts wisely.  
No, it’s not an easy process. We may struggle, but we gain something through the struggle. We become more mature, more like our Father. After all, it was God the Father who let His Son go…watching Him leave His home in heaven to make a life on earth. He watched His Son go all the way to the cross to carry out His plan of redemption. By doing so, He maintained a relationship with His Son that became even more intimate (if that is possible) and gained a whole new set of adopted children. So, maybe we become a little more like our Father as we let our children go. Maybe, we gain a little more intimacy with our children and an even larger family. Maybe…maybe I do have a little “separation anxiety,” but….

7 Ways to Teach Dependability

Infants need their parents. Their parents feed them, bathe them, change their diapers, clothe them, help them get to sleep, calm them, and so on. In spite of all this effort from parents, I’ve never heard an infant tell his mother, “I see you’re busy with dinner, Mom. Don’t worry about my bottle. I’m hungry, but I’ll wait until your done cooking dinner to eat.” No, he just cries for his bottle. He is powerless to care for himself; and self-focused in his desire to get what he needs when he wants it. His problem (whether it be hunger or a soiled diaper) is your problem. If you don’t believe me, sit in the car with a hungry infant for a while.
As family shepherds, we do not want our children to remain completely dependent, self-focused, and demanding for their entire life. We want them to grow and mature…to become independent. We want them to become responsible for their emotions, attitudes, behaviors, and daily choices. As they mature, we hope they will identify their own strengths, what they can accomplish on their own, and what they need help with. We want them to gain the courage and wisdom to reach out to others rather than give up when they face a seemingly insurmountable challenge. We also want them to help others when asked to. Overall, we want our children to become adults who exhibit a maturity that allows for intimate relationships, shared effort, mutual accomplishments, and joyful interactions.
How do parents help their children move from dependent, demanding kids to mature, dependable adults? Here are some suggestions.
·         Invest time and effort in your relationship with your child. Relationships are at the heart of parenting. Parents teach, instruct, and discipline effectively from the foundation of a strong relationship with their child. 
·         Validate your child’s emotions. Accept and affirm your child’s feelings, even if you do not always like them. For instance, if your child yells, “I hate you” in anger, accept his anger. Label the anger while setting a limit on appropriate expression. A parent might calmly say something like, “You are really angry with me. I still love you. It’s OK to be angry with me.” When your child calms down, you might talk repeat that statement and tell him it would be better to simply say, “I’m mad at you”–probably a more accurate statement in the long run. In this manner, you teach your child to express and manage their emotions. You teach them to become responsible for their own emotions.
·         Teach your children positive alternative behaviors. The more alternative responses your child knows, the wiser choices he can make. If he only knows to hit and yell when angry, he will hit and yell. However, if you teach him, through your actions and words, that he can also walk away, take a deep breath, calmly assert himself, verbally and respectfully express his anger, or find an adult, he has more tools and options available to make a wiser choice. 
·         Model self-control. A parent models self-control when he does not let his child provoke him to action or control his actions. When a parent does not give in to a child’s tantrum or demanding behavior, he models independence and self-control. When a parent does not jump into a power struggle with a child, he models strength and self-control. As a parent, model independence, an ability to manage emotions, behaviors, and decision making.
·         Model effective ways of dealing with your own weaknesses. Let your child see you turn to other people for assistance. Allow them to see you work with other people to pool strengths and accomplish a greater result. You can even reach out to your child and utilize his strengths to help you accomplish a task. In the process, you model that we all have weaknesses and we can ask for help when we need it.
·         Encourage your child to step out of their comfort zone. When your child commits to a course of action, insist that he complete it. When he starts a project but wants to quit when it gets difficult, encourage him to continue and support his efforts. Praise his persistence and effort when he finishes the task. This teaches your child the value of commitment. It also teaches him that some tasks are difficult. Even though we may feel vulnerable and uncomfortable with a difficult task, we don’t give up. We keep working at it. We seek help if necessary. We finish what we started. 
·         Teach your child to fail successfully. Teach him that failure is not the enemy, but the teacher…not a reason to quit, but an opportunity to learn. Tell him stories about those who failed and learned from that failure only to become successful people…like Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Edison. Tell him stories about your own failures and what you learned from those failures. Walk through moments of failure with him. Empathize with his disappointment and discouragement while encouraging him to find the lesson. Help him separate what he can change about the situation and what he has no control over.
Practice these 7 suggestions and you will find your child growing more mature and independent.