I'm still on the parenting theme but I'm branching out. Today's thoughts are on the "influence" phase of parenting instead of the "discipline" phase.
Now that I have more of my children in the "adult" stage of life than are in the "training" phase, I realize how much my role as parent changes through the years. I am struggling to get it right, stumbling frequently, but trying to successfully adapt (and to jump back and forth into the proper role I am to play for each child and their perspective stage - the challenges of a wide age spread :) ) As hard as those early years of parenting are (and I do think they are hard!), these later years have at least as many stringent demands. Before you hand in your parental resignation, let me assure you that the joys far outweigh the troubles! But just be aware that, whether you realized it or not when that pregnancy test came back positive, you signed up for life. Parenting is a task that is never completed....it just changes forms.
I've often quipped that if I were to write a book about this phase of parenting, I would entitle it "Teethmarks on my Tongue". If there's one thing I am learning, it's that I do a better job the less I say. That probably applies across the board in my life..........oh well.....
I'll acknowledge right up front that I am hardly qualified to hand out any advice on this subject (my family is now rolling their eyes amid yelps of laughter that this has never stopped me before!). But more than a couple of my friends have suggested I tackle it. So, I asked for their input, observed some folks that have healthy relationships with their grown kids, and pondered some things that I've seen create imbalance and angst in families. Here's what I came up with....
As kids move into high school, college and certainly beyond, the task of instruction is largely completed. When parents fail to grasp this, the young adult can become either unhealthily dependent (and thereby remain immature and poorly equipped to succeed) or emotionally distant in the relationship (resenting the parent's failure to recognize the changing role). Granted, this adjustment is not easy but it is critical that we strive for it. Absolutely crucial. And once we move in that direction, it becomes easier and quite enjoyable. All these years we were not supposed to be a "buddy" to our kids and now we can!
Three ways to cultivate the relationship in this chapter of life:
1. Encourage them with your support
Support that is manifested with words and actions.
Words: As one of my comrades puts it, be a cheerleader. Applaud them (specifically and genuinely - not just "You're awesome" ) No one ever gets too old to need to hear commendations, especially from a parent. Encourage them with your words.
Actions: While I don't think "support" should be financial, there are other actions that communicate your encouragement. Be there when they ask for your presence. Make home a haven. Serve them when they come for a visit. (Speaking of which, don't demand -either outright or via guilt trips - that they come home for holidays or anytime. Make home such a refuge and source of encouragement that they come of their own volition!) Babysit those grandkids so their parents can be reminded of why they got married in the first place. Encourage them with your actions.
Note: "support" does not have to equal "agreement". You may not agree with every choice but you can still provide support. You might turn out to be right....or you might not. The important thing is that your children know you are for them. Oh, and when you have kids that love you and value your approval, be aware that what you intend as "input", they might view as "insistence". Be careful. (Teethmarks, my friend, teethmarks on the tongue....)
2. Empower them with your confidence
Acknowledge that, while they are forever part of your family they are now their own entity. Contrary to popular folklore, you don't gain a son when your daughter gets married. You gain a SON IN LAW. They are a separate unit from you. Release them to be independent by communicating your belief that they are capable of being independent.
They're gonna make some mistakes. It's ok. Really, it's OK. Don't try to insulate them from all bad decisions. Let them know they are free to make choices and succeed at some and fail at others....and that you think they are good enough to make it at this thing called "LIFE". We bestow a priceless gift when we let them know we are confident of God's grace IN THEM and their ability to appropriate it successfully. Perhaps our best parenting moments are the ones when we tell them we have no idea what they should do but that we know they will figure it out. I'm not saying we refuse to give counsel when asked. I'm just saying that our certainty that they will make it infuses an awful lot of courage at those times when doubt is banging loudly on their door.
And, if you've sufficiently encouraged and empowered, you'll have the opportunity to
3. Enable them with your wisdom
The training time has past. But there's always time for counsel. If they ask. Gently, humbly, affectionately share your wisdom. Share some of the things you've done right but more so the wisdom you've gained from things you've done wrong. Powerful counsel, those things we learned on life's field trips. May God grant that we earn this place of influence in the lives of our kids, that we might spare them those kinds of field trips.
And, finally, most of the time, just be quiet and smile. Teethmarks on the tongue :)