If your child is graduating from kindergarten, elementary school or middle school, the next step is obvious. Worse-case scenario is repeating a grade. Many high school graduates will go on to college. But for those at the end of their academic journey, there is the world at large waiting for them. Most parents are left with the big question at the end of their active parenting years: Will they be embraced or will that world knock them down? For most graduates, anxiety may grow to major proportion: Can I make it? Will I be able to earn a living? Can I afford a place to live? Am I ready for this? Will I fail?
Whether a job is waiting or not, more and more adult children are moving back home for both financial and emotional support. Many situations are positive with another wage earner helping make ends meet. But the growing population of adult children unable to find jobs and continuing to live off mom and dad does not bode well for our economy and the future of our youth.
Graduation means commencement, start, launch—into what? Are your children truly prepared? Is the world prepared for our children? Much of the situation we can do nothing about. But we can do our best at preparing our children for this day with a slow, gradual launching process over many years.
The most recent trends in parenting—raising self-esteem through praise, “helicopter parenting”, overprotection and over-involvement—have done more harm than good in preparing children for making it on their own.
Our “mother bear” instinct seems to be in fight mode over less and less critical issues. Banksy says it all in Wall and Piece, “A lot of mothers will do anything for their children, except let them be themselves.” The unintentional result is children who grow dependent (often resentfully so) on parents to solve their problems and rescue them from unpleasant experiences.
Stuff happens. Children experience sadness, disappointment, grief, anger, broken bones and broken dreams the same as adults but usually in smaller proportions. When children are over-protected, they don’t get to experience life’s bumps along their developmental path and are not well equipped to deal with the bigger bumps of the world at large.
Ultimate protection is an impossible expectation “fix-it” parents set up for themselves. No one can call the shots on when joy or sorrow hits. A parent’s job is to empower children to face those hits, and if they fall, to support them in getting back up again and moving on. That is where true self-esteem comes from. Not from preventing the possibility of a fall. Or criticizing and belittling them for the fall.
Accomplishment needs to be theirs: Coming back from the throws of a temper tantrum, surviving fears of monsters and death, managing the anxiety of unfinished homework or a hard exam, losing a friend, subjects that don’t come easily, working hard to earn something longed for, dealing with not being chosen for the team, losing a loved one. These are hurdles children must face on their own with loving support and a parent’s confidence that they can do it.
Life happens. But we can arm our children for the bumps and hurdles by:
Modeling that we cannot control anything but our own thoughts and feelings (and I’m not sure about feelings)
Expressing and allowing the expression of whatever feelings come up in relation to any event without trying to change the event
Talking about and sharing experiences that are hard to get through, figure out, accomplish
Allowing them to take responsibility for their problems, support them through the problems without trying to protect them from the problems
Giving them the opportunity to make mistakes and even fail without shaming and blaming
In other words, we must give them the responsibilities that are theirs from the beginning. That most feared fall that our kids cannot recover from happens when we do and do and fix and fix while they are in our care and then expect them to stand on their own when we’re no longer there to hold them up.