. . . so is parenting. This post is the first in a series in which I will be ambitiously tackling a topic that is both close to my heart and relevant to my stage of life: The Transition to Adulthood.
At 21, I’m considered an adult in many ways. But am I? I’m a student, so I don’t have a full time job, meaning I’m very financially dependent on my parents. I’m mature, but enough to admit I’m not completely an adult emotionally. And for several months of the year, I live at home, becoming more physically dependent on my parents (or at least their resources) than when I live at school.
In college, I’ve had the opportunities to see my parents and family from a different perspective and to hear about and observe other people’s parents and families. I cannot begin to tell you how much I feel I’ve learned from this alone, setting my formal education aside entirely. Through my observations and my friends’ experiences, I have seen families ranging from emotionally manipulative to the point of abuse to those that are emotionally absent. I’ve seen a variety of parenting techniques regarding decision making, from allowing an adolescent to make all their own decisions in the middle of high school to holding on tightly well into college. One thing I know for certain: parenting is hard. All of these families care about their children, and want to do what’s best for them, and knowing when to let go is probably one of the most difficult parts of parenting.
Teenagerhood is widely considered the most difficult time for a parent (and a child). I would propose that it doesn’t have to be as horrific as it often is. The main reason teenagers are so difficult to deal with is that they are trying to find out who they are and asserting their independence. Therein lies the struggle: the teenager striving for control, while the parents struggle to determine when it is best to let go. Here are a few things I’ve noticed about this transition.
It’s always gradual, so there’s no “right age” to let go completely.
It’s greatly dependent on the maturity level of the adolescent, because a parent shouldn’t let go when the young person can’t handle it on their own.
It helps immensely to have an open relationship with good communication.
It helps to be emotionally understanding and loving.
I think it also helps to view your children as little people from the beginning – that is, if you think of your baby as a baby until age 5, and then think of him as a child until he’s 15, you’re going to run into problems. Five-year-olds are not babies, and at fifteen, that “child” is trying to become a young man. When you perpetually have the perspective that you are the parent and you always know what’s best and he/she’s still a “child”, it makes it harder to transition to thinking of your child as a young man or woman. Granted, I don’t have children, and I imagine it’s easier said than done. However, I babysit frequently, and I can guarantee that you will make life difficult for yourself if you treat a five-year-old as a baby, let alone if you treat a fifteen-year-old as a child. Children, at any age, have their own thoughts and ideas about the world, and they want them to be heard and valued. How many times have you heard teenagers say, “You just don’t understand me!”? I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard friends say of their folks, “Why don’t they listen?”.
Although in every family struggle, there are failures on both sides, the majority of the time, so much trouble could be avoided if the parents just listened. Let me clarify. This is not to say that the parents ought to listen so the child can dictate what happens or when, but listen and try to sympathize. Adults have experiences that should enable them to be emotionally understanding, putting themselves in that place. Listen to acknowledge feelings, even while disapproving of actions and offering alternatives. Listen to express to the child that his or her thoughts, ideas, feelings, and priorities have value.
The bottom line is that this transition to adulthood is difficult for both parties. For the child, it’s learning new responsibilities, finding identity, and fitting in to a new role, even while we want to hang on to the old. For a parent, it’s acknowledging that you no longer have the primary role in decision making, but a partnership role. After all those years of deciding what’s best for this little person, I can imagine that the habit is hard to break, let alone how that change must feel. It’s hard, but necessary, and with cooperation and a whole lot of patience, love, and forgiveness, it can be done.