By Rachael Abrams, LCSW-C
Two weeks ago, my oldest son left for overnight camp. It seems like just yesterday, we walked him into preschool for the first time and I know that before I blink, he will be heading off to college. As his mother, I can’t imagine that I’ll ever be emotionally ready for that day. Yet, I know that it is my responsibility to ensure that he is not only emotionally ready but also ready in every other way possible.
Julie Lythcott-Haimes tackles issues such as these in her book “How to Raise an Adult.” As a former dean of Stanford, Lythcott-Haimes began noticing that parents were increasingly involved in the lives of their college-age children, particularly when these children were at school. Consequently, she observed, college-age children, most of whom are considered legal adults, that were increasingly unable to problem solve, think critically and fend for themselves.
It is a natural instinct for parents to want to care for their children. The truth is that regardless of their age, our children will always be our babies. When they are younger, it is often easier – and faster – to do things for them rather than let them do things for themselves. However, where do we draw the line? When do we begin teaching them the skills that they will need for adulthood? If we don’t consider these questions, we turn around and our teenage children don’t know how to speak to adults, make their own appointments, maneuver in a kitchen, clean their rooms or perform basic household tasks. Lythcott-Haimes points out that there is not a magic button to press when our children turn 18, enabling them to inherit all of the skills that they will need to function and thrive in adulthood. Rather, it is our job to teach them, to guide them, to encourage them so they won’t need us to answer every question that they are faced with as adults. To do this, we have to learn to let go, which goes against everything that our hearts are telling us about caring for our kids.
Parents need to raise self-sufficient, independent and successful adults. Here are a few suggestions how to do that, based on the research of Lythcott-Haimes.
- Teach your children well. Kids don’t magically know how to clean up spilled juice or run the dishwasher. They need guidance. Consider tasks that you’re doing around the house as teachable moments and explain to your children how to actually do them. After you’ve shown them, do the task with them and then give them the opportunity to do it without you so they know that they can.
- Teach your children how to think. It’s easy to give kids the answers but telling them how and what to think is doing them a disservice. Give your kids the opportunity to use what they know to figure out how to solve a problem or determine next steps. Engage in regular dialogue to help kids come up with their own solutions and perspectives.
- Teach your children the value of hard work. Children need to learn that many accomplishments require hard work and perseverance. Share examples of when hard work paid off and when lack of hard work backfired. Determine the role that you want chores to play in your house and stick to it.
- Teach your children about resiliency. Things don’t always work out – studying for a test might not pay off, trying out for baseball might not result in securing a spot on the team and friendship with another child may not translate into a birthday party invitation. Rather than getting angry, help your child process what happened and the value of setback and failure. If they can make sense of it now, it will be easier to deal with adversity when it happens to them as adults.
- Teach your children how to parent well. Be the parent that you’ll be proud of in 25 years. Be available to your children and listen when they talk. Be a role model and show your kids that you value kindness and gratitude. Know that you’re human, not super human. Remember that parenting is not your purpose or your passion. Allow your children to follow their own dreams, even if they are different than yours.
Lythcott-Haimes says it best: we are parenting children but raising adults. It is important to remember that different stages call for different parenting. Sometimes your child needs to learn how to make the bed and sometimes your child needs to sleep in bed with you. The end goal is the same for all of us – we are trying to raise children who are successful, kind and able to thrive in the world they will face as adults
Rachael Abrams, LCSW-C is part of the JCS Access Services Team.
Because children don’t come with an instruction manual, JCS offers a variety of programs, services, education and support for parents and families with children of all ages. Click here or call 410-466-9200 to learn more.