I remember my first “launch” as if it were yesterday—that time my oldest child left the nest for good. He had just graduated from college and was ready to start his first “career” job in a city three hours away. We loaded up a U-Haul with his belongings and meager furnishings, drove over the mountains, and helped him move into his new digs.
It struck me how quickly the years had flown by. Now here he was, about to start life on his own. That was when I realized: You never stop being a parent. And you never arrive. You never really want to let go. But you eventually have to. This is, after all, why we raise them up—to release them to fulfill their dreams and purpose.
Granted, it’s not ALL about us and what we do or don’t do. However, the way we train our children does have a great deal of influence on how prepared they are for starting life on their own. Namely, are we giving them wings … or strings?
Strings would be anything that ties our children down and prevents them from achieving their full potential. We tie our kids down when we overly control and manage them with a tight grip—even as they mature through the teen years. It can also happen when we coddle, enable, or ignore them. Regardless of which extreme, they are inhibited rather than equipped. Picture a kite—it can never fly free. It is always constrained.
Wings are the things we do to prepare our children to be secure, confident, and independent adults who will live with integrity and impact. We empower our kids when we train them with strong internal guiding principles and give them freedom, opportunity, and accountability to apply those principles according to their unique style and interests. Picture an eagle—it can soar to the heights. It is free to explore high and far and to navigate the turbulence that life often brings.
Here’s what strings and wings can look like as we relate to our teens:
- Helicoptering (hovering, reminding, orchestrating, interfering, nagging, meddling)
- Performance-driven (excessive pressuring of kids for their achievements and accomplishments, often because of how they reflect on the parent)
- Vicariousness (living life through the child; glorying in his or her successes and agonizing in his/her defeats as if they are the parent’s own)
- Enabling (not letting him/her fail and face consequences; failing to enforce discipline or accountability)
- Selfishness (parents thinking it’s all about them; taking personally a teen’s natural need for space and independence; holding grudges/outbursts of anger when a teen makes a mistake or makes a decision differently from them; manipulation to get one’s own way by withholding rewards or relationship)
- Overprotection (being overly fearful of outside influences and perceived dangers; not allowing kids to experience enough of the real world to make informed choices; restricting them from meeting different people/navigating difficult situations; not permitting them to make their own decisions)
- Healthy separation (understanding that teens are their own persons separate from the parents and incrementally giving them space and respect as is due any human)
- Trust and grace (giving them incremental freedom as it is earned through demonstrating responsibility and integrity; making allowances for immaturity and lack of experience, extending forgiveness and taking the steps needed to re-establish trust when it is broken)
- Equipping (strategically and systematically training them to handle real world responsibilities and situations)
- Empowering (letting them experience new/different kinds of people and challenging situations with trust and guidance; appreciating their unique design, gifts, and interests and encouraging them accordingly; increasingly having them make their own decisions and supporting them through the consequences)
Many young adults these days find it difficult to leave the nest for good, and to thrive in the real world. Is it merely a tough employability climate, or the high cost of living, that is to blame? I think not. Sadly, Failure to Launch (the catchy title of a comedy film a few years back) is a real thing.
I want to offer two pointed questions to parents (myself included) that might help turn the tide on this issue. First, are we building a strong personal leadership foundation in our children now, that will empower them to succeed when their time comes to leave the nest? Secondly, are there any ways we—even with good intentions—are creating strings instead of wings for them? Take another look at the lists of strings above and honestly ask yourself if any of them are in your parenting game.
If your children are going to stand on their own two feet and live out their dreams and potential, the time to start preparing them—and yourself—for it is now. Trust me, that day will come sooner than you think!
Arlyn Lawrence is the mother of five grown children, a veteran of 14 years of homeschooling, and the co-author of Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, and What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead (available as a leadership and life skills curriculum for teens in standard and Christian editions). Arlyn and co-author Dennis Trittin speak and provide resources for parents, teens, educators, and mentors about building “life literacy” in children and young adults. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter!