In my years of leading parenting workshops and supporting parents in family counseling the most important aspect of these workshops and sessions is helping parents get clear on creating a mission statement for the very important job of raising their children.
I tell parents of young children, “Imagine your child in cap and gown on high school graduation day. What kind of a kid do you want to see walking across that stage?” The question alone is enough to elicit a tear or two. It’s an important question though. Important because the answer to that question informs the path of parenting.
Is it important for them to be kind? Then model kindness and teach by example.
Is it important for your children to be self-motivated? If so, empower them to do their own laundry. Encourage them to find creative solutions when they have a problem. Lovingly expect them to fulfill age-appropriate responsibilities at school and home.
Do you want your child to know in her heart that she has what it takes? Then stop praising and criticizing her and instead facilitate and model solution-seeking and let her hear you acknowledge the effort she is putting forth and tell her how proud she must be of herself. Encourage her. Tell her, “You can do it! I know you will figure it out.”
In addition to working with families in counseling since 2001, I am also a parent of three (now ages 22, 19 and 16). I have always known that I was raising my children to leave home, establish themselves well in the world, learn who they are at essence and be good, kind people who could stand on their own two feet. I stand by this firm belief that it is our job as parents to prepare our children for independence, not have them be reliant on us or others.
Relationships with others should be an augmentation and compliment to who they are and what they experience in the world. If they are encouraged to believe in themselves and to know they have what it takes, they will not need to be tangled up in enmeshed relationships with others.
And for parents who look to their children to be their friend or fulfill a desire for pleasure and purpose, it might be hard to hear what I have to say next. But it needs to be said. Our children are not here to fulfill us as people (as entertaining as they often can be!). We are here as parents to help our children develop intrinsic sense of self worth, compassionate hearts, responsible behavior. We must model all of this for them. And when we stumble (and oh how we will stumble!) we model for them how to take responsibility for errors, how to learn from those errors and how to make amends.
It is important for we as parents to know when it’s time to let go and let them fly. Remember when he took his first steps? How about when you let go of the back of her bicycle and she rode off on her own? For those of us with teens and young adult children, remember the feeling when they drove off in a car without you the first time? All these milestones mark steps on the path of preparing our children to go out in the world without us.
Consider what is your mission? What are the end goals? Is the way you are parenting your child in daily life contributing to that mission, those goals?
A poem by Kabril Gibran speaks well to the notion that we are here to facilitate the growth of these human beings, love them, house them, feed them, teach them but know when it’s time to let them fly. . .
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.