Tag Archive for leaving home

The “Big Little Leap” & All the Leaps That Follow

Ah…the experience of joy on the first day of kindergarten. I never really understood the parental struggle mixed with pride and joy when “letting go” of children until I dropped mine off for their first days of school. It was the first of many leaps that culminated in dropping them off at college or watching them walk the aisle with their spouse. Still, that first day of kindergarten was a “big little leap” for parent and child. Interesting, research finds that the more successfully a child makes the “leap” (AKA—transitions) into kindergarten (over a 10–14-week period) the higher they score on academic and social-behavioral skills tests at the end of that school year. That doesn’t surprise me. Transitioning easily leaves more time and more mental and emotional space to learn. The real question becomes: how can a parent prepare their children to successfully make that “big little leap” and all the other leaps (AKA-transitions) of life?

The answer to that question does not rest on academic or cognitive training but on relationship security. Children and parents will make the “big little leap” and other life “leaps” more successfully when they have experienced, and continue to experience, secure relationships at home. Having a secure relationship with our children helps them answer a couple of important questions. One question is: “Will you, as my parents, be there for me? Are you available?” A second question asks, “Do you think I’m capable? Am I capable?”

These two questions get answered in the everyday interaction of a parent and child. It begins as our children explore the world around them. As newborns, they simply want us to notice what they notice and match their curiosity with our own, reflecting back to them what they see in an ever-expanding way. “Oh, you see the squirrel. He’s fast isn’t he? Watch how he runs with that acorn in his mouth.” “Here comes the dog. He wants you to pet him. Gentle….” We join them in their experience and expand upon it somewhat, encouraging them to explore more deeply.

As they grow and become increasingly independent, they need us to allow them the freedom to explore in a more independent fashion. While they do, they need us to delight in their exploration by noticing what they notice and becoming excited and curious about things that arouse their curiosity. They need us to allow them the freedom to explore independently rather than hover in an overprotective way.

During their independent exploration, our children may experience times of stress and look to us for assurance. At those times, they need us to look at them with delight and confidence as they prepare for their “new venture.” For instance, the first time our child approaches a slide in the park they may look up the ladder and experience nervousness and doubt. They look to us to see our response. If we look with delight and confidence, they are empowered. They climb the ladder and “enjoy the ride.” However, if we look distressed or concerned for some reason, they will likely forego the slide and come to our side to confirm their own security.

This scenario will happen time and time again in all types of situations, like setting the table, joining a group, playing a game, getting on a slide, riding a bike, and so on. Each time, they find the answer to their questions: “Are you available to me?” and “Am I capable?” Each time these questions are answered in a positive way, security is enhanced. They being to internalize important messages:

  • My parents are available to help me and so there are helpers in the world.
  • I can manage my emotions whether they be joy or sorrow, courage or fear, and if I struggle, there are supports to help me.
  • I can take appropriate risks. I know my limitations and how to risk in a healthy way.
  • I am safe.

With these beliefs in place, the “big little leap” has a greater chance of success and just adds another layer of support for those beliefs. In fact, with each leap, parent and child grow more confident and trusting of one another. With that confidence comes greater joy and greater success. Isn’t that what we want for our children? Sure, letting go is hard…but watching them grow into amazing young adults is well worth the “leap.”

Book Review: Forgiving Fathers and Mothers

A mature adult life and healthy marriage begins with leaving home. I don’t mean simply moving out and living in a different house, paying your own bills, and maintaining your own social and vocational life. Many 16-year-old teens can do that. To truly become a mature adult who can contribute to a healthy marriage, we must leave home on a much deeper level. We must leave home emotionally. For some, the task of leaving home emotionally is relatively simple. For others–those who have experienced neglect, abuse, or abandonment–this task can prove monumental. Leaving home emotionally necessitates that we face the realities of our childhood, forgive our parents for any shortcomings they might have exhibited, and embrace the love they did share with us during our life. Forgiving our Fathers and Mothers by Leslie Leyland Fields and Dr. Jill Hubbard provides a tremendous map for doing just that. The guidance they offer in their book guides the reader out of the prison of pain, bitterness, and resentment that traps many who grew up in abusive homes. It is filled with courageous stories and insightful strategies to help lead the  reader out of the common behaviors used to run from the pain, “reclaim the past,” and enter into a “land of freedom.” The stories are inspirational yet tempered so we can all learn the lessons they offer. The insights are wise and practical. The way to freedom, though filled with ups and downs, pain and healing, struggles and victory, passes through forgiveness and into the land of peace and wholeness. If you have experienced trouble leaving a traumatic childhood behind, Forgiving our Fathers and Mothers offers hope and practical guidance. Following the strategies offered in this book will lead you into the freedom of a whole life and a fulfilling marriage.

Did It Again-The Emotional Cocktail of Parenting

Well, I did it again. For the second year in a row I took my daughter to college, unpacked her belongings, said good-bye, and left her hundreds of miles away from “home.” I’m not complaining. I am proud of her…and excited to see where life takes her. She has grown and familysunheartlearned so much in only one year of college. Still, I find myself holding back the tears when I drive away after dropping her at college. In fact, several diametrically opposed emotions fill my heart as I drive away—pride in her growth and excitement for her future, yet heart-breaking sorrow that she is growing up to leave home and deep pangs of missing one of “my little girls.” I’m not sure why I’m surprised at this mix of emotions. Parenting has always led to the uncanny experience of having more than one emotion at the same time. I remember the time my then 3-year-old daughter decided she did not want to eat her dinner. She got her mother’s (my wife’s) attention and began to talk to her in an animated manner, one hand making broad gestures. She maintained great eye contact and a wonderful give-and-take conversation. She held her mother’s rapt attention, face to face and eye to eye they carried on a conversation. In the meantime, I watched my daughter, unbeknownst to her mother, use her free hand to carefully remove pieces of meat from her dinner plate and deposit them under the table. We had to discipline her. She can’t go through life deceiving the authorities in her life in order to avoid tasks she did not like (I know, a little melodramatic). At the same time, I have to admit to a bit of pride in her creative ability to do two things at one time (hold her mother’s rapt attention and carefully get rid of her food) to achieve a goal even at such a young age. There it is…concern for her future and pride in her ability—a mix of emotions.

In elementary school our daughter decided she did not want to attend gym class one day. Having seen other children hand in notes to “get out of gym,” she decided to do the same. She got her crayon and very carefully, with the penmanship of any first grader, wrote: “Please let me out of gym today” (or something like that). Being the diligent student, she flower girlcarefully signed her name. The gym teacher was a little angry at her seeming deception and push against the system. Our daughter ended up in the office. She got in trouble and we got the call from the school (go figure). Her only excuse: “I didn’t want to go to gym today.” We had to talk to her about the whole incident, even discipline her so she would understand what she had done and not do it again. But, when she was in the other room, my wife and I admired her ingenuity and laughed at her ill-conceived attempt.

And then there is the “wedding incident.” Yes, parenting is filled with mixed emotions. Like me, you can probably recall moments when you were angry at your child’s behavior, but also extremely, gut-bustingly funny…or, times when your child’s risky behavior raised concern and worry, but also filled you with pride. And then there is college…filled with excitement for their future, but concerned for their safety; filled with pride while worried about their wisdom and the choices they have to confront while away from home; filled with joy for all the new experiences while experiencing your own heart-breaking reality that they are leaving home and, in fact, will call some other place their home while merely visiting your home.

Yes, parenting is filled with mixed emotions. We let them learn how to walk on their own. We watch them fall down. We help them stand up again and we send them on their way. We celebrate their successes and encourage them to “chase their dream.” We trust they have learned what we tried to teach them. We pray that God will keep them safe and guide them. Oh…and we look forward to the emotional cocktail of walking our daughter down the aisle of marriage or seeing our son marry the woman of his dreams. What can we do?  Enjoy the journey.

You Can’t Unfriend Family

I remember a saying I heard when I was 9-or 10-years-old: “You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” All the boys laughed and the TuneaPianoButYouCantTunaFishgirls let out a loud “Ewww” in chorus. Still, we all got the implicit message: there are certain things you do not do. A few years later, REO Speedwagon (a rock band popular in the 70’s and early 80’s) came out with an album (you know, those 10-12 inch vinyl discs, grooved on both sides, that, when rotating under the needle of a record player, produced music) entitled “You Can Tune a Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish.” Well, today we need a new saying along those same lines…and I think I have one. Here it is: “You can unfriend people on Facebook but you can’t unfriend family from your life.” I know, it needs a little work. It lacks the pizzazz and flair of the “picking your friends” thing and the whit of “tune a piano-tuna fish.” But, it does communicate an important truth. You cannot unfriend family. They go with you wherever you go. Any anger we harbor toward family will follow us into other intimate relationships. Apron strings left uncut by “Mamma’s boy” or tied to tight by “Daddy’s little princess” turns into a choke-leash that holds us back from intimacy with others. Unrealistic adorations of our perceived “perfect family” or fairy-tale expectations of an elitist family will only set us up for disappointment, hurt, and failure in future relationships. Each of these aspects of our family will follow us wherever we go. You can’t unfriend family. Instead, you have to emancipate (unravel) family. Here are 3 essentials to emancipating family relationships.

  • The first step in unraveling family is acceptance. Realize that you cannot change your family or anyone in your family. You are not responsible to make any family member feel or behave a certain way. All you can do is accept each person for who they are…warts and all. Accept them in their weaknesses, their mistakes, and even their irritations. Accept their love for you, even if it is miscommunicated or lost in translation. You may increase your acceptance of each family member by considering things you like about them. Take time to recall things they have done or said that you admire or appreciate. Realize they have strengths as well as weaknesses and recall those strengths often. Learning more about their life may also increase your acceptance of each family member’s idiosyncrasies. Consider where these idiosyncrasies may have come from? How they suffer as a result of them? And, what their idiosyncratic behaviors cost them? Unraveling family begins with acceptance.
  • Second, forgive. If any family member has done anything to hurt you in any way, forgive. I’m sure some of you are saying, “There is no way I’ll forgive them. What they did was too much to forgive!” Granted, some people suffer unbearably at the hands of family. However, when we do not forgive we continue to suffer at their hands. Our anger becomes a leash that keeps us from holds us in a family prison yard of anger and prevents us from finding greener pastures. Bitterness grows and engulfs our heart like kudzu engulfing and eventually killing a tree. Let go of the bitterness and entrust God to work out the justice. Begin to pray for the other person and develop empathy for how they have been hurt by their actions. Forgive.
  • Third, define yourself. After you have accepted each family member for their uniqueness and forgiven them, letting go of the anger that binds you to them, you can define yourself. Discover your interests and priorities. Investigate what you want in a healthy life and relationship. Learn the practical daily habits that will allow you to live the life you desire. Take the steps to begin to build a healthy life! One step toward healthy living is reading good books on family life—here are a few books we found helpful. Another crucial step includes finding good counsel and supports, people you trust and who model the kind of family you desire.


You can’t unfriend family from your life, but you can unravel family. As you do, you will find that you can love your family in spite of shortcomings. In fact, you may find your family is actually pretty nice in many ways. And, you will continue to grow an even stronger and more intimate family of your own!

My Life Is About To Change

Please, allow me a slight digression from my usual blog. This is a transitional week for my family…my life is about to change! Yes, the time has come for my oldest daughter to graduate from high school. We are very proud of her. She is bright and intelligent, a lovely person and a talented musician. She has been accepted to college and, when she leaves home this fall, will major in piano performance. You can listen to her playing a classical piece (The Revolutionary Etude) by clicking here and a song she wrote using the poem Annabelle Lee by clicking here. She dreams of playing in an orchestra for Hans Zimmer. Did I mention…we are very proud of her. Still, so many thoughts go through my mind as I prepare to “launch” my child into the world. I have to remind myself that she is moving into adulthood and making her own decisions now. And, she has shown us that she will make good decisions. Still, there is one word of advice I think important for her (and all those graduating from high school) as she prepares to build her life in the world. It is the same message that Jesus taught Mary and Martha during His life on earth. Perhaps you remember…Jesus came to their house for dinner. Martha was “distracted” with everything that had to get done. She became annoyed with Mary who just sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to what He said. Finally, in frustration she asked Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?” I love Jesus’ response: “Martha, you are worried and bothered by so many things; but only one thing is necessary…!”
As you go off to college (or high school or work or hobbies) many things will try to pull you away from the “only thing necessary.” Good people and good opportunities, great employment opportunities and even ministry opportunities can distract you from the “only thing necessary.” Negative influences and negative experiences will threaten to distract you from the “only thing necessary.” Don’t let them. Keep your heart and mind focused on the “only thing necessary.” You can still practice the instrument (or art or vocation) you love. In fact, you can practice that instrument, grow in that interest, or master that vocation with “the only thing necessary” in the forefront of your mind. As you go through the next several years, you will find things that do not make sense. You will feel overwhelmed. You will wonder why you have to keep that “only thing necessary” as a priority in your life. That’s OK; keep that “only thing necessary” in the forefront of your mind anyway. You will discover that those things that don’t make sense or make you wonder will often “fall into place” as you trust and obey that “only thing necessary.”
You have probably figured out what that “only thing necessary” is, but let me clarify. The “only thing necessary” is what Mary chose…sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him. Remember, after all is said and done, the “only thing necessary” is your relationship with Jesus Christ. That “only thing necessary” has eternal import. Pursue that relationship with Jesus (“the only thing necessary”) with all the vigor of pursuing a new love…or a new Rachmaninoff Prelude or a Chopin etude. No, pursue your relationship with Jesus with even more vigor than that! After all, “only one thing is necessary…and it will not be taken away…,” ever!

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.