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September 16, 2013

Realizing I Didn’t Have as Much Control as I Thought

Image: Flickr/Brandon Warren

Image: Flickr/Brandon Warren

Have you ever thought about the end goal of parenting? What your primary purpose is as a parent? Do you know where you’re headed?

Look at Alice’s goal (or lack thereof) in this dialogue from Alice in Wonderland.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” said Alice.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“– so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

“It doesn’t matter which way you go” if you don’t know where you’re going. If we don’t seriously consider where we’re headed as parents, we’ll likely end up anywhere—maybe some place good, maybe bad. Because parenting is a 24/7 job, too many of us fly by the seat of our pants without ever pondering what the goal of parenting is. We are too busy changing diapers, wiping noses, packing lunches, chauffeuring to practices, and helping with homework to ask ourselves where we are headed. As a result, we don’t ask ourselves those tough questions.
What is the end goal of parenting?
What is my primary purpose as a parent?
What am I seeking to achieve?
Many of us, because we are simply exhausted, will reply: “I’m just trying to make it through each day without one of us dying.” OR “I’m just trying to make sure my kids get through high school (or college) and then they’re on their own.”
Unfortunately, just like Alice in Wonderland, we’ll get somewhere just by walking (or parenting) but it may not be where we want to be and our relationship with our kids may not be what we truly desire.
Whether we realize it or not, here’s our goal of parenting: We are not raising kids; we are raising adults.
Think about that. We are raising adults. That’s the end product of our years of parenting. So what is an adult? It’s someone who is responsible for himself, takes care of his own needs, can make good decisions, is considerate of others, provides for himself, and knows how to manage himself around others. If we are raising adults, then we need to have in mind the “end result” of our parenting. We need to picture them as adults and then ask ourselves how we can help them get there.
When my kids leave my home, they need to know how to take care of their own needs (cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, managing their money, etc.) They need to know how to relate to others in healthy ways. If that’s the case, how do I ensure that TODAY they are learning something that will better prepare them for that day when they leave my nest?
I like to think of children as living in worlds of concentric circles. As toddlers, they are in smaller circles, able to do little bits of things independently. They can put on their own shoes and help to put away their toys. As they get older, they can manage more of their world, so their “circles” increase. They are able to manage their own hygiene, do their own homework, and eventually drive a car. Over time, they should be growing in their privileges and responsibilities, able to take on more and more adult-like tasks as their sphere of influence increases.
So often, though, our own impatience prevents us from allowing our kids to move towards independence. Frankly, it’s easier to do things FOR them rather than take the time to teach them how to do it themselves. At the same time, on an emotional level, sometimes our own anxiety hinders their growth. We are afraid to see them fail, so we act on their behalf. In the end, it’s a control issue. We think that we know best, so we do FOR them what they can do for themselves and we rob them of the chance to grow. Sometimes, in our parenting journey, we think we are in control, but occasionally life gives us the opportunity to realize we aren’t, and we get to watch our kids grow up just a little more.
I had just such an opportunity this summer. My kids flew solo to California to visit their grandparents while I was out of the country. My husband was flying to see me at the same time my kids were flying to Cali. Well, as fate would have it, all flights were delayed, which caused them to miss their connecting flights. The possibility that my children could spend the night alone in the Atlanta or Chicago airport was high. I began getting texts and phone calls half a world away about the delays, but I COULD DO NOTHING. Talk about anxiety producing! Did I mention that there was nothing I could do? UGH!
It was now up to my 15 year old son, who was in charge of his younger brother and sister.
I finally forced myself to get some sleep and when I awoke, I talked to my son. It was midnight in Chicago, and they were boarding their Chicago flight to California. Miraculously, and I mean miraculously, that flight was held/delayed.
“You’ve got to be exhausted. Did you guys sleep at all?”
“Yeah. Reeve and Hannah did, but I stayed awake because I didn’t want us to miss our flight.”
Oh. My. Word.
The maturity that I didn’t even know I could hope for had shown up. I was floored. Here he was, in a big airport, in a highly stressful situation, acting as the protective older brother. It was more than I could handle, so I did what any good mother would do. I cried. (Not that I let him know that.)
“Wow. I am seriously impressed, buddy. I love you.”
When we loosen the reins—or perhaps hand over the reins—we allow our kids the opportunity to become the adults we are raising.
So today, ask yourself if there is a skill that your child needs to learn or a responsibility that needs to be given. Then, squash your anxiety, sit back and enjoy the ride.

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