To say that raising children is hard to do would be an understatement. Raising children is so much more than changing a few dirty diapers, a few first days of school, and lots of money. In fact, the goal of raising children isn’t to raise children at all–it’s to raise responsible, well-rounded adults. But how do we do this? And what do we do when that part has already been accomplished?
As a new mom, I remember one of the hardest things to maintain was a healthy marriage. That sounds pretty ridiculous as you would think that in order to make that baby, we must have had a healthy marriage, right? Right. But after Emery was born, my world became so completely and entirely about Emery. I became a stay at home mom and the rest of the world just disappeared. Including my husband. I remember him feeling so left out of my life and asking to be a part of it again. I did not understand what his needs were at all. All I knew is that I was so completely worn out and any hugs and kisses I needed were being fulfilled during the day by Emery. My body was, once again, not my own, but belonged to Emery as well. I had simply forgotten that my previous co-partner of my body was my husband. He had loved me long before Emery was even a thought in our minds. I had forgotten that love and it took some time to regain that.
One thing that kids desperately need to become well-rounded adults are well-rounded parents. This isn’t to say that kids of totally messed up families cannot become great adults…they can. But their parents sure aren’t giving them their best possible chance in life. Kids need parents who love each other, who can work together and demonstrate how to come to a compromise even when they don’t agree. Kids long for the security of a loving family that will always be there to catch them when they fall. When they feel secure at home, they can go out into the world feeling secure that “home” will still be there at the end of a day–pass or fail.
All too often I have witnessed parents deciding that being friends was more important. I feel this happens especially in the teenage years. Parents are afraid that their kids will rebel and run off if they have too many rules. Moms want to be the “cool mom” that all the other kids go to for advice. They want to be the go-to place for hang outs, parties…etc. In these parents’ minds it would “make more sense for the kids to be getting drunk or having sex at my house when I am here to supervise than it would be for them to be doing it somewhere else.” While I follow the reasoning, I disagree.
Kids don’t need more friends. Kids have plenty of friends at school. What they need are parents. They need someone who loves them enough to say “no” even when their kids might hate them for it. They need someone who loves them enough to protect them from the things that they don’t even realize will hurt them. I remember reading a book by Dr. James Dobson, The Strong Willed Child, in which he describes a mother of a toddler allowing her son to just cruise down the middle of the street in his tricycle because it was just too hard to say, “no.” She was tired of fighting and allowed this little guy to hit her and drive off. While I can totally relate to the feeling of wanting to throw in the towel, I cannot imagine allowing my child to literally ride down the street risking his life because he feels like riding his tricycle that way.
Similarly, the friendly parent just doesn’t want to risk the hitting, pinching, and temper tantrums to say, “No” when kids are risking their lives by underage drinking, sex, drugs…etc. Drinking in and of itself is not a terrible thing. Jesus had wine. The problem with teenagers is that they don’t really know when enough is enough. They already lack so many skills to make responsible decisions. Sure, let’s just throw some alcohol on it to help! Really?? No. So many young women are raped while drunk or otherwise sexually assaulted. Kids get behind the wheel while drunk or high and kill themselves and/or others. I’m sure that the mother of the child who killed himself while drunk would give anything to go back to the moment when she had a choice to say, “No. You’re not going” and have an angry son with her than a dead one. This may sound so harsh…and it is a terribly harsh reality. And of course I’m not saying that it is the parents fault when a child is killed or hurt in these accidents. The kids made those choices. But as parents it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to keep these kids safe.
Now some parents go in the exact opposite direction. I had a friend in school who was never even allowed to spend the night at anyone’s house ever. NEVER. Seriously. Maybe when she was seven years old and they weren’t likely to be drinking or getting into trouble. But she was never able to spend the night or go out with us. Even our freshman year in college I came home for winter break and she had an 11:00 curfew. I remember being surprised by this. My brother had a classmate who was not allowed to play video games, watch TV, listen to the radio…everything modern, it seemed, was from Satan. I mean, really…it was quite dramatic and very serious. This type of parenting can have some serious consequences as well. Sure, some kids turn out totally normal. But most of them will go through either a period of total fear of the world and an inability to stand on their own two feet. These are the kids that are 30 and still living with mommy who does their laundry and cooks all their meals…and some moms want it that way. If they don’t do that, then they’ll often have a period of rebellion because the first night in the dorms is the first night they’ve experienced the chance to make a decision for themselves.
I remember growing up in the icy cold winters of Wisconsin. I lived in a small town with a lot of surrounding rural area. I remember having to drive through some country roads to get to school in the mornings and they would be covered in snow and ice. There were many times that my car would start to fishtail (the back end of my front-wheel-drive car would loose traction on the road and start swerving back and forth). Your gut reaction when your car starts to spin side-ways is to turn that wheel and slam on the breaks. You want to gain back control of that vehicle before you hit someone, something, or go into the ditch. However, if you do start spinning that wheel like crazy and slamming on the breaks, you’re really only going to spin out more. The best thing to do is to carefully and gently guide the wheel and take your foot off the gas and lightly pump the breaks until you can find some traction. I stopped myself from spinning out many times that way. Maybe this isn’t the technical way to do it, but it sure worked for me and prevented lots of accidents.
The above style of parenting can be so much like that icy road. Sometimes you feel like you need to slam on the breaks and turn that wheel to gain control. But sometimes, the harder you grip that wheel right now, the closer you’re getting to the ditch later. You need to take it easy, keep calm, and focus on just slowing down and finding some traction.
Now, I see no need to lie to your kids. It can be a scary world out there. There are people out there that you can’t trust. There are kids in school that would not make good friends–“Bad company corrupts good morals” after all (1 Cor. 15:33). There are movies and video games that may not have the best influence on your kids. But you don’t want your kids to grow up in a home that is living in constant fear of what consequences there may be out there. Kids need room to dream a little. They need room to make their mistakes while the consequences are still small and mom and dad are still there to catch them when they fall and wipe the tears away that will surely come. But they don’t need you to be their friend. They need you to be their mom or dad.
I remember a fellow blogger saying that she prays that her children get caught when they make mistakes. This way they can change their behavior. Right now, stealing a pen or pencil from a classmate might end up in some embarrassment and a time out or something, but stealing when they are adults can land them jail time and large fines. Let’s let our kids get out there and dream…make some small mistakes…and correct them when they do. There is such a fine balance to this and I just pray that God gives me the grace and wisdom to find that happy medium.
So, what about when you already have a well-rounded adult child? For eighteen years or more, your life and schedule has been defined by this other person. Now, that other person has a life of her own. She is married with a family of her own. What now? Now who am I?
I can honestly say that a large part of me dreads this period in my life. I love having a hand in the lives of my boys. When they grow it is going to be so hard to remove that control and allow them to make decisions of their own. I think that a part of me will feel useless and I won’t know what my role is anymore. But, I can tell myself, “Remember when you wanted to be friends with them? Now is your chance!” My kids will no longer want my advice unless they specifically ask for it. I will no longer be able to just go to them and say, “No, you’re not going here or there.” That will be their decision. The choices they and their families make will be their own and I will no longer have the right to interfere. (This is, of course, unless the kids are totally going off the handle and putting people in danger…)
I believe, though, that so many parents struggle with this time. You hear the term “monster-in-law” all the time for a reason. There are so many mothers (and fathers) out there who just cannot let go. They use the love of their child as manipulation to get what they want. They try to divide their son or daughter’s marriage so he/she will come running back and fall into their arms of safety again. They long to remember the times of childhood when their sweet baby fell asleep in their arms. But as sad as it is, that time is OVER.
There are lots of Bible verses about leaving your family and being joined with your spouse and all, but there are just a few places where I feel like the consequences of not allowing your kids to leave are really spelled out. The story that first comes to mind is the story of Jacob, Leah, Rachel and Laban.
Genesis 29 comes out of a totally different messed up family situation and Jacob finds himself in the land of his relative, Laban. Jacob is thrilled to find a safe-haven to rest his head and begins to work for his uncle, Laban. After about a month, Laban asks Jacob what he would like in return for all of his hard work. Jacob has had his eye on Rachel, one of Laban’s daughters, for quite a while. So, he says that he will work for Laban for seven whole years just if he can have Rachel as his wife. (This was not uncommon to marry a relative back then…). Laban says, “Sure…why not? Better you than someone else. It’s a deal.”
After seven long years the day finally comes for Rachel and Jacob to be wed. Well…Laban decided to get sneaky on Jacob and switched out Rachel for Leah. Keep in mind that women wore veils, there wasn’t electricity…etc. so Jacob didn’t notice that it wasn’t Rachel. You can imagine his frustration when he woke up in the morning. When he approached Laban he said that he couldn’t very well marry off the younger daughter before the older one and, “I’ll tell ya what. Work another seven years and I’ll give you Rachel too.” And you know what, Jacob did it. He worked another seven years to get Rachel.
Let’s pause here for a moment. This is a HUGE problem. Maybe Laban thought he was being a good dad by marrying off his daughter, Leah. But this could not have been a worse decision for Leah, Jacob, or Rachel. Sure, Jacob must have been totally mortified when he woke up to see another woman in his bed. But think about Leah too. Jacob takes one look at her and screams. Now that’s what you want to experience the morning after having sex with this guy. Jacob screams and says, “What the heck are you doing here!?!?!? Laban!!!! What did you do to me!?!?!” Poor Leah got the short end of the stick. Not only did her father use her against her cousin, Jacob, who is now her husband. But Jacob doesn’t even love her. He doesn’t want her. And think about how angry Rachel must be too. Rachel has to watch Leah get pregnant from this guy that she is supposed to be married to. I mean, could there be a more awkward love triangle? A love triangle that none of the three really want to be in?? And who is to blame? Laban…the father in law…the father of these two girls.
Of course the story doesn’t end there. Laban still can’t keep his filthy hands out of the lives of his daughters and ends up causing Jacob to pick up with his whole family and try to escape. They can stand it no longer and have to get out of Laban’s grip. When, in all reality, Laban needed to get a grip! A grip on reality. All of these things that he thought he was doing to keep control of his family and what he wanted and thought was best are the very things that forced everything as far away from his control as possible. Laban just could not let go.
There are so many parents who, in essence, do the same thing today. Their kids grow up and get married and they just can’t keep their hands out of the marriage. They ask probing questions hoping to find marital problems. They talk badly about their child’s spouse to everyone including the grandkids. They may even go as far as to admit that they want this family torn apart and cannot stand that they are together. What’s sad is that many of these parents are successful at tearing their family apart. The whole while their hoping to hold their own little family unit together, but what they are actually doing is tearing it apart and their going to be left with an angry and bitter child who cannot forgive them for ruining their marriage.
So, to the parents who say that they feel like they no longer have a role in their adult childrens’ lives, I would respond by saying, “Yes you do.” You get to choose the role you’re going to take. You can take the hands-on approach like Laban. You can try to manipulate and control the decisions your adult children make. You can load on the guilt trips. You can set them up for complete failure and all the while say, “I just want what is best for you.” Or, you can let go. You can tell your kids that you love them and become their friend. You can support them in their adult lives and endeavors and encourage them to be the best possible husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, father, mother, daughter, son, employee…etc that they can be. You can continue to lead by example. Live a life that you’d be proud for your kids to follow. But let go of the control. Keep out of the marriage (unless your child is in danger) and the marital problems. Quit trying to raise your grand kids. Allow your children the same opportunity that you longed to have–to raise your family your way, not your parents way. The harder you grip, the less control you will have.