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“Who in the world told my kids they could have a life of their own?” I remember regularly thinking this while our kids were teenagers. Just when we hit an awesome parenting stride (and by awesome I mean I was pretty much in control of their schedules and daily details, and made sure none of it actually conflicted with MY important plans), they started individuating and making plans of their own.
As parents, this is the season in our teenagers’ lives where we begin to battle two conflicting emotions: the urge to take back control and the desire to become buddies. Both usually originate from legitimate motives. For the former, we don’t want them to fail and we believe we hold the keys to preventing that. For the latter, we want them to like us during a chunk of years when they possibly won’t. Both are tempting. But ultimately, both are a disservice to them.
Since our kids are entering a new season of life, a new parenting approach has to be considered. For their sake, we need to loosen the tight reigns of the training years and move to the sidelines for coaching. Coaches don’t leave the field. They don’t get distracted with other stuff. They watch carefully, call some plays, and pull their players off of the field from time to time. They have no immediate goals of keeping their players happy. Mostly, they encourage their players to run the plays and respond to situations according to the training they’ve received.
Transitioning to the coaching role wasn’t intuitive for me. Disciplining and training had become ingrained. For me, the switch was easier when I began to think about it, and my kids, in terms of being for them. I wanted them to know, “I’m for your physical safety, I’m for your emotional health, I’m for your relational success, I’m for your mental and spiritual development, I’m for you making it to the end of these middle school years, or high school years, with as few regrets as possible. You’re the player, but I’m not afraid to pull you aside for tweaks, corrections, and sometimes sitting out a game. I’m for you. I know you can do this, and I’m here to help when you need it.”
Resisting the urge to control and not caving to the desire to prematurely make friendship a priority brings health to a family. Coaching our kids through those middle and high school years, in spite of a few regrets here and there, is the stuff rich relationships are made of later. In hindsight, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. My kids gaining “a life of their own” has truly broadened and enriched mine!
This week, choose one area where your kid is ready to grow and make a game plan for them to step into independence in that area. It could be with cell phones or chores or curfews or dating or money or just about anything else. But take the time to decide with them what steps they need to make in order to gain more freedom in an area where they want it most.
If they want more freedom with money, help them make a budget. More freedom with cell phones? Have them show you they can handle the responsibility that comes with it. You get the idea. Then let them know…
1. I am for you in this area. I want you to win with money, with your cell phone, with your dating life. The goal for me, as your parent, is that you gain more freedom and more happiness over time.
2. There are steps you must take. Because I’m for you, you won’t be given total freedom over night. But here are the specific steps you can take today to get to the next level of freedom tomorrow.
3. There will be course corrections. Each time you make wise choices, you’ll get more of what you want, but we know you’re learning and you may make mistakes. When you do, we’ll have to change the plan a bit, meaning each time you make dangerous or unwise choices, you will lose some freedom for a while.
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