"The metaphoric way in which we experience our children has a great deal to do with the difficulty or ease with which we can let them go.
If you regard your child as appliances that came with a warranty and must perform as expected, you may want to discard them when they start costing a bit more to support and don't function the way you thought they should. And if you see children as cars you have carefully maintained for years and assume that their performance will reflect on how you maintain them, you may feel especially responsible if they don't work in top condition when you sell them to someone else 18 years later.
On the other hand, do you share the view of Emma Bombeck who sees children as kites?
Throughout their childhood you keep trying to get them off the ground. You run with them until you're both breathless and still they crash. You patch once more, adjusting for their growing size, and caution them about the perils of unseen wind. When they are ready to try their final flight, you let out the string with joy and sadness because you know the kite will snap the line that bound you together. But you also know the kite will fly as it was meant to fly, alone and free. .......
It is difficult to let go of a kite or balloon that is our child if we doubt our child's ability to steer a course away from electric wires and other obstacles waiting to snatch the unwary. But unless we keep our children tied down and imprisoned, we don't have any other choice than to let go."
A few weeks ago our daughter got engaged and so we are thinking "weddings" - in the day and at times in the middle of the night! This is our third family wedding so one would think it gets easier the more you have 'had'. Not so. Each of our kids have their own ideas and of course the person they are marrying has theirs too, which is totally healthy.
Some people think that the wedding or moving out of home is the moment when parents must let go. But I don't think letting go is a moment, but rather a process that slowly starts when childhood finishes and a child's independence begins to develop.
Each family process, in fact every child in each family, has a unique sequence of events that lead to letting go. One element of letting go is the child's want or desire to go. A child can be let go while still in their teens, maturely and comfortably moving out to live well from here on. While there can be no desire to be let go from another, even though they are well into their thirties. Every child contributes to being let go. On finishing high school at 18 years some of our children have chosen to go overseas - to study, travel or work, while others have not been ready to contemplate such things at that stage. Choosing to be let go involves their character, independence, drive and curiosity.
Parents play the other part in letting go. If parents help equip their children for the future, they give them skills in independence and self confidence. If these skills are not taught by parents and encouraged to be exercised by the children right through childhood and teenage years, then their future is affected detrimentally.
Thus equipped, when a parent then lets go in a part of their child's life, the child learns the feeling of responsibility and being trusted. This leads to maturing and gaining of self-confidence. The whole experience has successes and failures, but in these at home years, there is still room and time to 'try it again' and practice aiming for improvement. It's not only the child who gains confidence, the parent too increases in their confidence in their child, trusting them to handle life well when they do leave.
(For some readers I realize you could be thinking, but it hasn't worked like that for me!!!! Possibly because the will of that child has not been won over to see the need to stop behaving irresponsibly, or to see a real reason to stop selfish habits. This is something I have written about previously and intend to write more specifically on in the future. [See the end section of "What Daughters Need from their Mothers" Part 2 or "The Habit if Self-Pity at the end.])
Here are some suggestions of where parents can let go of their children~
By the end of pre-school years - take total ownership for feeding themselves, toiletting, showering, dressing, putting clothes and toys away, setting a meal table and becoming a contributor to meal preparations and clean ups.
Childhood 5 - 7 years - all the above. Total responsibility to pack their own school bag after being taught, increasing responsibility as a contributor to meal preparations and clean ups.
Childhood 8 - 12 years - all the above. Total ownership in getting ready for school and remembering to hand over notes...from school, doing dishes after meals, baking and cooking simple meals after being taught, responsible to be up on time in the morning, responsible for daily or weekly household jobs to be fulfilled.
Teenagers 13 - 15 - all the above. Total ownership to get school work finished on time, being in bed on time, keeping to computer usage as agreed, music practice completed, finishing homework independently- asking for assistance at school or from others if required.
Teenagers 16 --- - all the above. Total responsibility for care of their own clothes - laundry, choice of what to wear, preparation for exams and interviews........
REMEMBER doing this involves failure - the bag taken to school by the 6 year old may be missing food to eat, the music practice by the 14 year old may be substandard and you may not like what is worn clothing wise by the 17 year old, but by letting go over time, you give everyone space to keep talking and reworking things. If you don't let go gradually, you remain holding on, moving from guiding to directing to controlling to dictating as time goes on. The experience of being trusted and trusting won't be experienced by anyone by this method. There is a difference in letting go so they have the responsibility and can choose to ask our advice, and our not letting go and giving them no choice.
Here are two short articles by Alan W. Carson, a coach for parents and author~ "The Art of Letting Go" and "Children's Wants Versus Needs", which you will find practically helpful.
Why do parents find it hard to let go?
Karen Levin Coburn, assistant Vice Chancellor for students at Washington University and author of the book "Letting Go: A Parent's Guide to Understanding the College Years", says parents have a 'do it right' approach to their kids futures and are therefore fully part of every stage to ensure the best results eventuate.(sounds like the car in the quote at the beginning of this post.)
GotQuestions?.org, says, "at the heart of the difficulty of letting go of our children is a certain amount of fear." Continuing on they said that when our children were young we could monitor their lives, but parents loose this control as children grow up.
Arlene Harder, author of the quote at the beginning of this post, says, "Letting go involves the process of transferring responsibility for our child's life from us to them." Later she says "....an ideal adult-to-adult relationship with our children can be modeled on the ideals of friendship." She says just as we can enjoy friends who are different in many ways to ourselves, so letting go means we view our own children with this same respect." "We can have equally satisfying relationships with adult children who are also out of sync with us in some way." She suggests we focus on the here and now, NOT the past or the future. This way "we allow both ourselves and our child to evolve into the people we want to be tomorrow, rather than constricting our perceptions by how we viewed one another in the past."
5 of Arlene's check points or guides on how to respond to adult children, which I think are extremely helpful ~
1. Recognize adult children's rights to decide what they will do with their time, money and energy - letting them think for themselves and live with the consequences of their choice.
2. Respect children's privacy - for example, asking if it is ok to drop in for a visit, not asking what they earn or how much they paid for an item.
3. Accepting our children for who they are. "We only need to be willing to view each other with compassion, without illusions or expectations. Once we're willing to accept each other just as we are, we (both) can stop being defensive."
4. Respect that our children may not wish to discuss topics where their views differ to ours. Parents tend to bring up these issues to steer their child away from danger or poor choices..... The purpose is to get the child to change their mind and take on the parents' view. But there's no respect of individual views with this sort of behaviour.
5. Not looking to our child as our only source of connection and love. Parents need rich lives outside their parenting role. Also parents must accept that sources outside the home can have beneficial input into their child's life.
So adult children can still be living with us, but we can have already let go of them, because as parents we are no longer taking responsibility for their lives - How do you do this? Again Arlene Harder gives six ideas.
1. If adult children live at home, state they are to pull their own weight and be a fully functioning member of the family.
2. Give the same conditions to adult children as would be theirs if they lived away from home, for example if they have no money, they are to do jobs in lieu of rent.
3. An agreement should be agreed on by both parents and child, of how everyone will function together and that there is a limit to how long they may stay.
4. When adult children have jobs, they should pay rent on a gradually increasing scale.
5. As a parent you have the right to refuse children to live at home when they are addicted to drugs, alcohol or are abusive to family members.
6. Don't allow adult children to live at home when there is not enough money or space to cope.
Arlene Harder's entire book is available for you to read and print off free for personal use. Follow the link after the original quote at the beginning of this post.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ check over how you usually respond to your children in normal daily living and see if you are working towards letting them go. If changes should be made, do it. As Arlene said "...we don't have any other choice than to let go", so work at it over time by equipping your kids, no matter how young, and give them great experiences which will give you and them confidence in their future.