It Will Be Fine, Just Fine. It Will All Be Fine…Right?
As a parent, it is the never-ending see-saw ride that raises the stress levels. From the terrible twos and the teens to the challenges of young adulthood, our kids continue learning, which means the odds are high that they will learn the hard way. This can mean tears, heart ache, head-knocks and practicing patience.
It is our natural instinct as parents to want to solve problems or even avoid these seemingly negative situations. After all, no one wants to see his/her child in pain – physical or emotional turmoil. This instinct is as natural as when the doctor taps just below the knee and the leg automatically kicks upward.
It has been our job, for at least 18 years to keep the kids safe, pulling a hand back from a hot stove, putting an arm across a child in the passenger seat of a car when you stop too fast, and these days, putting an app on the phone that monitors social media use when in the car.
There is a relatively newer skill set as the kids become young adults. It involves patience. If you are lucky, you start building this skill when the kids are teens. Ok, I get it, using lucky and teens in the same sentence is not a natural combination; however, the teen years are a time of independence. Teens are designed to naturally start breaking free from the mom-dad-caregiver framework, yet at the same time still don’t have the mental capacity to process all of the consequences. It is the ying-yang of it all. The teen rebellion is a natural part of life.
As the kids move to young adults, the independence continues to grow; yet, all of the sudden their eyes open to things they had not seen in their previous life. “What, I have to pay to license a car?” “What do you mean, I have to pay for renter’s insurance?” My husband and I found this phase to be both humorous and interesting. It is as cute as a baby learning to point to a letter or shape, when your child slowly realizes the things you have been doing behind the scenes that he/she is now learning for the first time.
Then, there are the more challenging ones; like when your child, now an adult, makes a decision that is neither life threatening, nor even in the high danger zone – yet, the path they have chosen will make life a little harder. As experienced adults, who may have made a similar decision, we know this path will bring bigger bumps in the road. It is hard to see your child, even as a young adult, face the hard path when you see a smoother, better paved road to the right or left.
The real questions are: 1-Do you push them to the right or left? 2-Do you let them choose their own path without influence? 3- Do you gently influence, yet support them in their own decision making? The reality is that each path, even as a parent, has a consequence. Pushing a child one way, may avoid short term pain, but in the long run there could be resentment. Providing gentle influence upfront may feel good in the short-term, but then in the longer term may impede how he/she thinks on their own and may not discover a decision framework that would work best for them.
At times like these, I think that I would trade these adult-rearing moments for a trip back to the terrible 2 toddler years. Admittedly, the repetition, self-discovery and setting boundaries by using the word “NO” can be exhausting to manage; however, you know there is an end near to your 2 year old and they will turn to the 3’s and 4’s and new developmental milestones will emerge.
In the young adult and adult phase, the consequences for decisions and choices can last years and lead to financial debt, career impacts, relationship issues and more. At the same time, a parent’s best intentions to do the right thing may stunt confidence in future decision making or a general reliance on the parent for constant guidance.
The best lesson I got from a wise sole is to enable the adult child to have a sense of control, even when you have the answer that could help the situation. And as long he/she keeps talking to you, even in frustration, that is a good sign; but the minute a child goes silent there are signs of trouble. Through counseling, I learned to say, “This is not a life or death situation, so I know you will make the right decision for you;” even when I really wanted to jump in and say, “NO – don’t do it.”
It is a learned skill for me, and I would say I am not consistent at exercising it yet. At times my mom instinct kicks in and I want to shelter my child, even the adult ones, from the potential harm that may come as a result of a choice. If I was rating myself at work, I’d say I still have a ways to go, and I have put my developmental plan in place. Sometime this requires me to hold back, write down what I’d like to say and throw it away, or just yell about it to my husband, who, by the way, really appreciates that tactic. (He knows I am in a learning curve.)
And so, the see-saw continues, as our young adult children strive for independence and we parents readjust our parenting techniques from primary protectors to teachers with a long-term strategy in mind. We have, for the most part, survived raising the kids, and now it is about cultivating these human beings who will lead others and eventually care for us.
They cycle of life does not promise to be void of heart ache. They cycle reminds us that all will be ok in the end. It will be fine, just fine. (I type this as a reminder for myself too!)