The time has finally arrived. Your adult (or almost adult) child is leaving the nest – going away to school, a job in another city, marriage or another new living arrangement, maybe the military, but going away.
For some parents, this is a time of celebration! Finally, there is time, money and energy for yourself, or for you as a couple! You can move to a smaller home, remodel, buy a boat, travel, do volunteer work, not cook meals, do less laundry, plan and save for retirement, etc. For others, it’s a time of grieving the perceived loss of the role of mother/father. I am writing this for the latter group.
As parents, one of our most critical responsibilities is to prepare our children to become independent functioning adults. After all, one day, if life follows its’ normal course, we will no longer be there to protect, educate and nurture. Our children need to be able to execute the critical tasks that life requires – handle money responsibly, get and manage their own health and medical care, find and secure a job, take care of their own safety, and hopefully, find another person to love and be loved by, to be a partner through all of this.
I see our role as parents as being a manager from birth to adolescence, a coach from adolescence to the launch into adulthood, and a consultant from there on.
At birth, every function of life must be managed. The only thing an infant can do on its’ own is pee, poop, cry and sometimes, sleep. But one day, they become able to do more. To roll over, to walk, to talk, to decide they want something and go to get it, to wash their hands, to dress themself, to read, to make a sandwich, to make a friend.
In adolescence, a child can handle many of lifes’ tasks on their own. Although they seem to need management, possibly even more than before, they are now entering the stage of development when they are on their own more then ever, and begin to need a lot of coaching.
Relationships with friends become more important and they want to socialize independently of parents. Along the way, they will make mistakes, as everyone does. And learning about the consequences of those early, non-critical mistakes, and deciding how to do it differently next time, is foundational for both self esteem and successful functioning as an adult. They need you to coach them through this very important phase.
A coach helps a person to set their own goals, to make the most of their genuine strengths and compensate for areas of weakness, and to reach those goals.
By the time your child has reached the stage of independence where they want to leave home and be on their own, they need you in the role of a consultant, and they will need you in that role, to some degree, for the rest of their life. They will no longer be living with you, and you won’t be able to see them every day in order to see how they are doing. They will make decisions about sleep, food, relationships, money, work, school, etc, without your oversight. But, they will need to feel free to get in touch to consult with you about how to do many of these tasks.
How to let go, yet stay connected? Stay tuned!