Lessons learned as a parent is the balance between giving advice and letting go.
As I was helping my oldest son and his girlfriend of five years pack, plan, and make their first move away from home, I was reminded of the old days when I thought I knew everything and was ready to take on the world. As a parent of an adult child, it’s a constant balance between giving advice and sounding like an over-bearing parent who thinks she “knows best”.
I recently learned a few things about this balancing act of how to make yourself available as a parent, while at the same time, not taking away a young person’s self-drive and leadership. I came up with a few tips that I hope will help others along the way.
1. Pick your Battles
One of the best pieces of parenting advice given to me when my kids were small was about picking your battles and not being so driven to have everything exactly as you think it should be. Raising children is an art, not a science, and as much as you try to raise them all the same, their differences in personality and circumstance will without a doubt always bring different results. One child may be loud, wild, and always testing authority, like my oldest who took a liking to sneaking out of his sister’s bedroom window after rigging the house alarm so he would never be detected. Epic fail! Another one may do the same thing, only they decide to do it very quietly and just under the radar. As a mother of four, I suggest avoiding power struggles at all costs. Picking what is important long-term is key, and allowing some things to slide is sometimes the best thing to do. Things like changing hair color for the summer or wearing shoes that may not be to your liking are small expressions of individuality for young people and a huge part of their development. These things as stand-alone events are often times phases that will quickly pass. Let them go. If you make everything a battle you will leave yourself no room for negotiations later.
2. Allow for Mistakes
Allowing for mistakes is not only important but also vital to learning how to overcome adversities and are great building blocks to making better choices later. As a parent, the key to this is learning how to bite your tongue and knowing when a mistake that is about to happen is worth the lesson. It’s a fine line, but this is what good parenting is all about: lessons that come from so-called mistakes and avoiding them from being repeated.
3. Stay Out of It!
By the time your kids are moving away from home, there have been many times you (as the parent) should have stayed out of it. I can recall when my boys were no more than 6 or 7 years old, and relationship issues would come up between them and their friends. I would have an internal battle wanting to rescue my kids from having their feelings hurt, yet knowing it would come back and bite me in the butt when I’d see them playing together just two days later. It only took a time or two for this to happen before I figured it out. Just stay out of relationship issues altogether. Offer help only when asked to do so, and most importantly, stay neutral. Sharing your opinion is fine, but they should ultimately be making the decisions.
4. Treat Them like Adults
As I saw my 22-year old son packing, sealing boxes, and calling the moving company, I quickly realized how mature and responsible he is today. The skinny teenager that could slip in and out of a window undetected was not leaving his home through the front door with respect, honor, and a plan for his future. He was also taking with him, his partner of choice who could not be a better women for him had I picked her myself. His desire to do things on his own, yet know when to ask me my opinion is what showed me his level of maturity and readiness for this big move. When your children admit their lack of knowledge and when they ask for your help, you know they are ready to be treated as adults. Give them the space, and set the expectations. If they are ready after this, they will know how to navigate through life and begin to follow their own yellow brick road.
Letting go and cutting the umbilical cord is never easy; after all, when your first of four children is leaving the nest it’s important to understand that just because you will always be a parent doesn’t mean they will always be children.
In the end, my son and his beautiful girlfriend moved, and as is the Cuban tradition of making everything a family affair, we had a Cuban caravan of five cars, one U-Haul truck, and twelve people to move two young adults into a one-bedroom apartment, three hours away. Never a dull moment and blessed to share!