I’m sure many of you have heard that old Hallmark card adage that goes something like this: Parents give their children two great gifts---one is roots, other is wings. This is what I address in this article.
As parents, we pray for our children’s safety, health and happiness. We do everything we know to help make these things happen for them.
At some point in our lives, we developed principles and values that guide our life decisions. Our parents and/or caregivers certainly had influence over this but not complete determination. Some of us gladly adopted values of our parents and continue to live by them today. Some of us so completely rejected our parents values that our decisions are determined by doing exact opposite of what we believe our parents would do.
Most of us, however, are somewhere in middle---we have accepted some of our parents values and rejected others. This is a normal process of development. As parents, though, we really fight that period in our children’s lives when they are attempting to differentiate themselves from us.
Maybe it is because we fear for their safety in their decision-making. Maybe we can see that they are engaging in unhealthy behavior or heading down a life path that will ultimately lead to unhappiness. Whatever reason, we get scared if our children’s values differ too much from our own.
What can we, as parents, do? First of all, as we raise our children, we are helping to strengthen their roots. This is first gift a parent gives their child. How does one strengthen roots? We tend, we nurture, we feed, we cultivate---all to develop strong roots.
Sharing our value system with our children is critical to this process. In sharing values, remember that people pay more attention to what they see, as opposed to what they hear. Therefore, if you are a parent who tells your children it is wrong to smoke while you are toking on your cigarette, know that their interpretation of smoking will likely be different from what you are verbally espousing.
A developmental task of adolescence is separation and individuation. This is time when children are attempting to separate themselves from their parents to an extent. It can be a very frightening time for parents. What do we do? This is time for second parental gift---wings.
We want to give our children gradual “flying” lessons. Children are not ready to go from total and complete shelter of their parents’ protection to being absolutely out on their own. This must be a gradual process.
Dr. Nancy Buck, in her book Peaceful Parenting, says it best. “We limit freedom for as long as it takes to teach responsible behavior and then we give back freedom.” We want our children learning precarious process of making decisions while they are still under our semi-protection.
During teen years is perfect time to allow our teens to begin process of deciding what their own set of values will be. If you have done a good job with roots and you handle next part with a minimum of confrontation, then value process will go relatively smoothly.
Remember, your teen is doing nothing different than you did. The only difference is that you were wrestling with your parents’ values and your teen is wrestling with YOUR values. It has a very different feel to it, but it is same nonetheless. You may say that your value system works just fine for you and your teen needs to see things same way you do. However, reality is that you cannot know what is best for another person, including your children. You are not them. You do not occupy their skin. Only they can truly decide what is best for themselves and then they will have to live with consequences of their decisions.