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.