When you do things for your kids that they should do and could do – not only are you spoiling them, you are arresting their development, and, sometimes, eroding their confidence. Yes, as an adult, you can often do things quicker, more efficiently and smoothly. That’s because you’ve had years of practice at washing the clothes, cooking a meal, creating a budget, etc. When they get older, if they’ve had the proper opportunities to do chores and have other responsibilities (like caring for a pet or managing an allowance) on a regular basis, they will have the competence you have. There is no shortcut to acquiring competence. It is acquired through a series of painstaking efforts and small steps.
Some parents do for kids because they don’t want the kids to fail. Allowing children to have small failures in fact helps prepare them to avoid much bigger ones. The adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care came into being for a reason…because it’s true! Plus, there is such a sweet victory in overcoming a failure and triumphing through difficulty.
Other parents keep their children dependent – though they complain about their dependency; incompetent – though they bemoan their incompetency; and selfish – though they decry their selfish acts. In the case of more than a few women I know who are single parents, I’ve come to believe that this has as much to do with their own fear of launching as it has with the child’s failure to launch. Keeping the grown kids around helps avoid having to get and attend to their own lives.
The point of being a parent is to help our children grow to be competent, independent adults. Often times we will develop friendships with our adult children. Those friendships are much sounder and more rewarding when they happen as a result of our grown-up children welcoming us into their grown-up lives, having gone through the fits and starts of the teenage years and come into their own.
It is painful to see the struggle of kids about to graduate from high school who are just not ready to be independent, are unprepared to begin the business of taking care of themselves, and, who, at the same time, have worn out their welcome at home. Seeing the fear in their eyes and self-limiting behavior of the teens and witnessing the disappointment and anger in the eyes of their parents is painful. As a parent, do you invest the serious money that college costs in a kid who hasn’t done well in high school and who you are pretty sure is not ready to perform in college and doesn’t want to do a PG year? How do you say to your young adult, you need to work until you are ready to make the commitment to college? How do you say to that YA, you’ll no longer be able to blow your entire paycheck buying whatever you want, but will have to pay rent now that you’re working? It’s a difficult situation. My heart goes out to the friends and acquaintances I see going through this.
Unfortunately, parents sometimes fall asleep at the wheel during the later high school years because they have become weary as they near the end of this part of the parenting journey. Many also engage in the false hope that the children who they have not prepared in previous years are all of a sudden ready for the responsibility of handling their own business despite all evidence to the contrary. Letting go of the reins is not the solution. Handing the reins over gradually is the way to do it. Helping children:
- develop critical-thinking skills,
- showing them how to analyze situations (“if…then”),
- giving them opportunities to become self-disciplined, and
- clarifying values
are the key tools in helping develop independent young adults ready to launch into this beautiful-terrible world. Otherwise, instead of beginning to exhale and rediscovering your own life, you will still be actively parenting and holding your breath much longer than you should – perhaps even for years. And that’s nothing nice.