One of my favorite old timey baseball players is Yogi Berra, catcher for the New York Yankees and later manager of the hapless Mets. He was colorful and said some goofy things. After a team rally where the Mets won, he commented to the press, “Ya know? It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” That’s a Yogi’ism that is classic, with meaning far beyond baseball.
How about parenting? When raising your children “in the ways of the Lord, so that, when they grow old, He will not depart from them,” (Proverbs 22:6), is your task ever over? Now, healthy parenting is a lifelong process of letting go and letting God, and your style of parenting changes over the years, but it ain’t ever over.
Occasionally, my now grown and gone son invites me to play golf with him. I consider this a rare opportunity to talk about “stuff” with him, impart the meagre wisdom of my years and experience. There’s a lot of time to talk while riding in the golf cart between shots. Sometimes it’s nothing. Sometimes it’s golden. I cherish every moment. If I were “off duty” or dismissive as his parent now, how would we continue to build and revise our relationship as we grow older. Our adult children certainly have their own lives now. So, how can we continue to fit into them, be helpful, encourage, and reinforce all that’s good about who they are becoming?
In the last chapter of my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I define the Principle of Responsible Freedom, where we give our emerging adult teens who still live at home as much freedom as they demonstrate responsibility for. We build in accountability and supervision, to encourage success with their freedom, We pull back on the freedom when they demonstrate irresponsibility. This guarantees a healthy progression toward launching our children into their own version of adulthood. Our style of parenting changes as they grow.
At birth and until about school-aged, our style of parenting is Hands-On. As they get more curious and their social boundaries are extended with school, our style shifts to Directive Parenting. When their brains develop the capacity for abstract thinking, about age 12, we shift again to Advice-Based Parenting. When they leave the nest, from age 18-30, we shift again to Consultative Parenting. This stage is where we adopt the attitude of hearing them out and commenting, “Ya know, I have some thoughts about what you are going through. Do you want to hear them? Getting their permission gives you the power and emotional connection to impart your wisdom. It’s then their choice to take it or not.
Your teen/young adult’s pathway to adulthood is likened to a NASA space launch. As parents, we are in mission control. We monitor their progress, give them necessary readouts and feedback about their progress. Our teen/young adult is in the space capsule, flying the craft and making mid-course corrections to reach their target. We can’t do life for them, but we can be with them in a supportive, consultative capacity.
When we launch our teen into adulthood, we may give a sigh of relief and believe that our mission is accomplished, but our parenting, while always changing, is never over ‘til it’s over.
Did you know a common, universal truth? It applies to all of us, and double for parents. Here it is. Indispensability is a curse. That’s it. When you try to be all things to all people, especially to your children, it is not only impossible. You are also depriving them of a learning opportunity, to see how well they can stretch their capabilities.
“Moooom,” Derek hollered from the laundry room. “Come here,” he demanded. “I can’t doooo this,” He threw his school shirt back into the churning waters of the filling washing machine.
Allison heard the commotion way across the house, as she was straightening up Emma’s bedroom. Her 5 year old daughter played with her doll house close by. Derek’s mom sighed and whispered to herself, “What now?” She then scurried to the laundry room, where Derek was near total meltdown. Wanting to avoid an inevitable catastrophe, Allison gently tugged her son aside, “Here. Let me do that.”
Wow! I’m worn out just writing this story. Imagine what Allison is feeling. No one, not you, not me, certainly not Allison, can be all things to all people. You can’t pour yourself out without refilling the well. Trying to be all things to all people is a quick trip to impulsive anger, high blood pressure, and an early grave.
First things first. By doing for her children, Allison both overloads herself and deprives them from learning responsibility for themselves. Rather than doing his laundry for her teenager, Allison could have started with active listening, to help him calm down. When he became able to listen, she would then ask his permission to show him what to do. The lesson follows, as Allison watches to be sure Derek gets it right. She then has opportunity to praise her son for a job well done.
Second, even at 5 years old, how is Emma getting off the hook for her chores? With youngsters, explain your direction and help them get started. As she gets it, back away and let her do more of the straightening, followed by your praise both for her accepting responsibility for how her room looks and for getting the job well done. For both children, to avoid the “I forgot how’s” write down the steps in completing the chore and post it where the chore occurs, keeping a copy for yourself.
Finally, what about mom? In Matthew 22:39, Jesus calls us to “love one another as you love yourself.” I describe this as your source of self-care. If you give to others without making time for yourself, then your giving leads to conditional love. That is, “I did this for you. Now you owe me.” If you give to others while making time for yourself, then you show agape, or unconditional love. “I’m doing this because I want to. Have a nice day.”
Examples of renewing self-care include exercising, personal devotional time, journaling, taking coffee breaks between functional activities, and such. These self-care measures require you to set boundaries with your spouse and children, use family meetings to equitably divide up household chores, and know that you are your best version of parent when you are the best version of yourself. Since indispensability is a curse, the ability to lovingly say “no” to the mutual benefit of all family members is the cure. Changing habits is always a struggle at first. Stick to your guns and share the load. What a fountain of great teachable moments for all of you.