Being the parent of a teenager is never easy. Even if you have the “perfect” teenager, as a parent, you still worry about peer pressure, school, and a ton of other issues as your child begins to explore a brand new world where you are not as much of an influence as you might like.
All this “letting go” on your part and “learning from new experiences” on their part has a very real purpose, believe it or not. The purpose is to assist in giving your teenager much needed experience in learning to be a healthy, happy, productive adult while they still have the benefit of a safety net – you.
In January of this year, my oldest daughter decided it was time for her to move out of the house. She was in her second semester of college, was working a part-time job that was more full-time, and was looking for a good, used car. She approached me to discuss the possibilities of her moving into her own apartment, the difficulties in balancing a budget, and the complexities of juggling needs and wants when it came to work and school. She was serious; she had brochures from apartment complexes and had researched utility deposits. As a parent, I committed the ultimate sin – I didn’t listen because I couldn’t deal with the situation when it was presented to me. My number one, all-time, steadfast rule is to always, always, always LISTEN to your children, especially when it is something that you don’t really want to hear. But my own fears over-ruled my good common sense, and I shut her down with a quick, “You can’t afford to do that and you need to wait until you finish school.” No discussion; no listening to her reasons; no rational conversation. I regret my actions to this very day.
In March of this year, my daughter moved out of our house. She came to me two weeks before she was to move to let me know that she had already put down a deposit on her apartment and arranged for her phone and electricity to be turned on. She gave me a date when she would be moving and asked for my help. I was, quite frankly, stunned because I had assumed that the issue was already dealt with in a manner satisfactory to…me.
Perhaps if I had listened to her in January – really listened – we would have been able to have a rational, two-sided, detailed conversation and my daughter would have decided that it wasn’t the right time to move just yet. Perhaps she would have decided that she still wanted to move, but we would have been able to make her plans together, providing her with a bit more of a safety net. As it was, she did not have the benefit of my years of experience and she made a few mistakes that we probably could have saved her from had I not been so stubborn and set in my ways.
Without going into a lot of detail, we both learned a lot of lessons the hard way. We are both struggling with the mistakes we have made and we are working on mending our relationship. As a parent, I have to take responsibility for the fact that in some ways, I did fail her. As a “child”, she has taken responsibility for the fact that, in some ways, she did fail herself. We both should have tried harder; we both should have been more insistent that we listen to each other. We both gave up too soon. These have been extremely hard lessons.
It has taken me four months to come to grips with this enough to be able to write about it. There are two reasons for that: 1) I broke my own cardinal rule – always listen to your children; and 2) I miss my daughter very much.
To address the latter, I have to say that any parent who says that they won’t miss their children when they leave the nest is only kidding themselves. There are many things that I had hoped that we would do together that we didn’t have the opportunity to complete. There are many lessons that I feel I still had left to teach. To other parents I say, if there is something that you really want to do with your child, don’t put it off any longer – do it! Don’t kid yourself that you won’t miss them when they move out, because it isn’t true. Don’t fool yourself into believing that you will see them just as much when they move out, because they do develop a life of their own and you won’t. It is all normal and natural and, to be very honest, what we as parents are meant to facilitate. It is a part of their “growing up” and as hard as it is, it is a necessity. Yet, when the heart is involved, it is never easy. Take courage and know that your children will always needs you, so they will always, sooner or later, be back at your door.
To address the former, I have to make many apologies. First, to my daughter, I apologize profusely. I should have listened; I should have discussed; I should have honored the trust that I had fostered in you when I told you I would always listen to anything you had to say. I should not have let my own fears overshadow my duties to you as a parent. I hope that you will forgive me and give me another chance. To my readers, especially those to whom I have said many times, LISTEN to your children, I apologize. We are all fallible. Especially me. I still stand by my advice – listening to your children is one of the most important aspects of being a good parent. However, I admit that there are times when it is one of the hardest things that a parent will have to do – especially when they are listening to something that they don’t want to hear. Yet, we must do it anyway. I hope and pray that I have learned my lesson.
For those of you who have children of varying ages less than eighteen, enjoy every moment that you are allowed. For those of you who have children who are beginning to contemplate moving into a place of their own, my heart is with you. Listen to them; help them; and let them know that you will always be there for them. Remind yourself constantly that this is what you have been working toward since the day they were born! They are meant to develop lives of their own and we are meant to be happy for them when they do. Our job in their lives spans from cradle to grave; however, the influence we are to have decreases significantly as time passes. That is as it should be.
A treasured friend of mine uses the following analogy to illustrate a parent’s place in their child’s life: When your child is born, you are given a chalkboard and a box of chalk. For the first years of their life, your job is to write on that chalkboard everything that they need to know. You are literally responsible for it all. As they being to develop their own personalities and their own minds, they will begin to pick and choose from what you have written. Occasionally you will find that something you have written has been erased. You may write it again; but if it is something in which they believe strongly, they may erase it again. Also, you will begin to find lessons on the chalkboard that are not in your handwriting. They may have been written by your child or they may have been written by someone to whom they loaned the chalk! You can correct, you can erase, and you can add other thoughts and ideas, but you are no longer in sole control. Eventually you are going to find that your piece of chalk is worn down to a nub and the box is in the possession of your child. Better yet, they no longer want to share the chalk and the chalkboard. It doesn’t mean you won’t worry, or review, or even attempt to interject, but the responsibility is no longer yours. They have taken responsibility for themselves.
As hard as it is for the child to make the switch from childhood to adulthood, it is just as hard for the parent to make the switch from viewing their child as child to viewing them as adult. But, for the well-being of parent and child, it must be done. Love them always, but allow them to grow. Accept them as individuals, while holding close your memories of them as your child. Give them wings and feel your heart soar with them as you watch them take flight! Sometimes the truth is bitter-sweet, but it is still the truth!
Love and blessing to you all!!