Did you know that letting go, as a parent, starts with your child’s birth? Whaaat? I thought letting go started when our child left home for college or to otherwise start their adult life. Well, that’s a big one, for sure. But there are everyday ones of less significance that go way back to your child’s birth.
It’s 2 AM. Little Joey was fed by his mom at 12 midnight, and yet he is up awake in his bassinette just two hours later. What to do? First, distinguish that crying sound. Is that a “feed me” cry? An “I’m poopy” cry? An “I want your attention” cry? Some cries require immediate parental attention, others not so much. Crying babies who want mama’s attention may be better soothed by learning how to self-comfort themselves back to sleep, within reason. An early version of parental letting go.
Allyson comes to her mom while she is making dinner. She just stands there for a moment, looking at her mom. “What?” mom exclaims. Allyson bats her eyelashes, pauses, and links her arm in her mom’s.
“Brandee and I were wondering if we could go to the concert downtown this weekend. A whole bunch of us are going. It’ll be fun. Pleeeease!”
Mom is making an effort to give her 16 year old daughter some space. Allyson is an A student, plays on the school field hockey team, and rarely gives them trouble. But, downtown is a scary place. There are bad places where drug deals are common and a lot of bars where trouble can be found. Can mom trust Allyson to make good decisions and be safe? The answer is yes, and no.
In my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I devote a whole chapter to the Principle of Responsible Freedom. That is, we give our children as much freedom as they demonstrate responsibility for. If and when they become irresponsible, we pull back on the freedom until our trust returns and they learn from their error.
If mom gives her daughter a blanket “okay,” with no guidelines, that’s too much letting go. While getting grown, Allyson does not have enough experience with responsibility and safety to navigate those troubled waters. If mom says “okay,” but gives strict, safe guidelines and words of caution, then that gives her daughter an opportunity to get the experience she needs to become a fully functioning, responsible, independent adult.
However, instead of giving her the checklist, make it a teachable moment. Engage your daughter in a discussion about what needs to happen for her fun excursion to be safe. Then help Allyson come up with guidelines such as, make sure you have a full tank of gas, park in the arena parking lot, stay together as a group, no side trips or after concert activities, keep your cell phone charged and on, and check back with me several times, and be home by curfew.
This type of teachable moment demonstrates the parent exercising the “Principle of Responsible Freedom” with the teen. The key is building in accountability and supervision measures to help ensure a positive outcome.
Letting go is the most critical part of healthy, effective parenting. Through God’s grace and our hard work, we can convey the principle of responsible freedom to our children and help them practice being a functional adult, while they are still under our authority.