Let me take you on a ride. A space launch to be exact. Ever been on one? I didn’t think so, as there have only been about a hundred or so American astronauts. This space launch is a metaphor for how your teens become adults.
As shown in the recent movie, Hidden Figures, and more fully in the past movie, Apollo 13, it takes a team for any space launch to be successful. There are a whole bunch of people at ground control. For the US, that’s Houston, TX. Remember the famous line from Apollo 13? “Houston, we have a problem.” Also, these launches take years, decades of preparation, with new technology always adding to the mix. And astronauts are groomed, prepared, and meet certain criteria of stamina and expertise even to get into the astronaut training program. No space launch is exactly perfect, so the spaceship trajectory is adjusted, mid-course corrections, by the ship’s pilot, in consultation with ground control.
I know you see where I’m going with this. As we prepare to launch our teens from adolescence to adulthood, we see the parallels to manned space flights. We, the parents, are their primary ground control, although we ask extended family and experts to give us help and counsel. When did ground control start its work? When your son or daughter was born. Their entire life is a preparation for launch.
Finally, the day arrives. Your child fills their car with their stuff and is off to college or work, with a different place to live. Suppose he gets lost? He talks to Siri or consults his GPS app on his phone. Suppose he runs short of funds? He goes to his local ATM or, more likely, he calls you for a “loan.” These are the mid-course corrections of his space flight, for which he is primarily responsible, but not without your wise counsel.
As he continues his space journey of exploration, are you hawking over him, ready to advise and protect? No, advice-based parenting was appropriate in his teen years. When he becomes an adult you switch to consultative parenting. “I have some thoughts about what you are going through, son. Do you want to hear them?” And then wait for him to give you permission. What about Sunday dinners back home with you? Mission to ground control, we have successful space launch to adulthood.
“I can’t wait until I’m 18. I’m gone and never looking back!” Ouch, that hurts. After all we’ve done for our kids. In the heat of the moment, teens will say anything. The fact is, many teens actually live with their parents well into their 20’s, even 30’s. Developmentally, adolescence comes to an end and our children are faced with adulthood with all its freedoms and responsibilities.
There are stages to our parenting. When little Johnny is toddling, we use hands-on parenting, literally. When he goes to school, we change to directive parenting. As he becomes a teenager, advice-based parenting works best, as he is working on establishing a personal identity. As he becomes an adult, switch to consultative parenting.
In the business world, consultants have a specific role. First, they are experts in their field. They know their stuff. Second, they are asked by the company boss to come in to the company and check it out. Third, they thoroughly gather data, explore, ask questions, check things out. Fourth, they compile a report and give it to the boss, complete with recommendations, and then they leave.
As parents of late teens/young adults, you have the expertise to give wise counsel, BUT, you have to be asked for it. As your young adult child is floundering, making bad choices, getting into difficulties, use your active listening skills to help him understand his feelings and to chart his own course. As you see his emotional fever coming down, and you think he might actually be ready/able to hear you, then you ask permission. “I’m really sorry you are going through this, son. I have some thoughts. Do you want to hear them?
With his giving you permission, the stage is set for your wise counsel. However, in using consultative parenting, you cannot insist that he follow your will. He can accept or reject your counsel. Parenting our adult children involves giving them our wisdom and giving them their freedom to follow it or not. Parenting? It’s never too late.
Do you ever brag to others about how well your adult children are doing? Well educated, great job, great family, on his/her way. How did that happen? Adolescence is the proving ground of adulthood, where our teens develop the tools to have an enriching, successful adult life. Analogous to our space program, we parents are in ground control in Houston. After graduating high school, our teens enter adult life in one way or another. Job, college, marriage, a life mostly separate from us. Before launch, we provide our teens with measures of accountability (curfew is 12 midnight, don't be late) and oversight (let me look over your college personal statement before you submit it). We guide the launch by exercising the principle of responsible freedom. Our teens have as much freedom as they demonstrate responsibility for. If/when they become irresponsible, we will pull back on their freedom and give them opportunity to learn from the mistake and regain our trust.
After launch, on their journey, we help them make mid-course corrections, much like the thruster rockets on the sides of the space ship adjust its trajectory. As parents of teens, we use advice-based parenting tools. "Been there, done that, son. Let's talk." As parents of young adults, we switch to consultative parenting. "I've got some thoughts about what's going on. Do you want to hear them?" Getting his/her permission first conveys your respect and recognition that he's grown and gone. Then you are free to convey wise counsel.
Launching your teen into adulthood can take 10 weeks, 10 months, 10 years (think boomerang kid). Be patient and use your active listening. They will get it and make you proud(er).