Navigating New Pathways
Sometimes we have to evaluate where we are and forge new roads. Starting over may not be necessary, but just making some adjustments may be helpful.
Last week I told y’all about my dislike of New Year Resolutions. So I’m not going to now give you some to follow. It is a good idea, as the Parent of Adult Children (PAC), though, to start parenting intentionally, as our children grow into adults.
One of my favorite parenting lessons, by Bob Hostetler of Focus on the Family, was when my oldest was going into junior high. He discussed how parenting can be divided into four stages: Commander, Coach, Counselor and Consultant.
The Commander is for the vulnerable years of your child’s life. Everything they do is dependent on you. You feed them, clothe them, check their homework, and try to get them to bed at a reasonable hour. You are also, unfortunately, in charge of restrictive discipline and mind-numbing repetition, whether it’s “don’t touch the stove” or “don’t hit your brother.” Think newborn to twelve.
The Coach is that transition time after preteen years and before they move out. You encourage them, teach them, and begin mentoring them. You’re showing them how to run a load of laundry, get a starter job, manage their money, navigate the crazy world of dating, and drive. Oh, the driving lessons!
You still discipline them, but it looks different. Grounding them may work or letting natural consequences happen – “I’m not reminding you to study for the test anymore. If you don’t study, you fail.” You are still there for them if they ask – “sure, I will quiz you for the test,” but you begin to let them take responsibility. Think thirteen to seventeen.
Then come the Counselor years. They are legally an adult now, but still need your guidance and even help. Maybe they are buying their first car or choosing a college. You guide, rather than direct. “Harvard sounds amazing! Unless you get a massive scholarship and have impeccable grades, though, I don’t see how that will work. Are you willing to forego a social life and have to work all of the time to go there?”
Discipline is tricky at this stage. It can’t even be called discipline, really, just cause-and-effect. Maybe they still live under your roof, though. If you have a young adult who doesn’t want to self-monitor their behavior, you may have to do boring things like draw up a contract and have agreed-upon consequences that they buy into. In extreme circumstances, they may even have to move out. (If they are already out on their own, making a living and in their own place, skip ahead to the next section.) Think eighteen to twenty threeish.
Finally, we assume the role of Consultant. They are definitely doing their own thing by this point. We have little to no input, but, if we have forged a respectful relationship with them, they still want our opinion. And if they seek out our opinion, we have the right to tell them. Just be kind. Remember what an idiot you were your first few years on your own? The bad investment, the apartment in the scary neighborhood, the attempt to fix the leak by yourself? So no conversations that start out with, “well, first, that was a dumb idea.”
In light of that lesson, I have decided to “work on” a few things in this year of 2020. (Already messed up on a couple, but I am giving myself some grace time!)
- Be available but shut my mouth when they come and vent to me about friendships, teachers, etc.
- Give advice when asked, but never when not asked! (Double negative, but you get it…)
- Try not to take it personally when they don’t come to me for advice, or don’t tell me about their latest crush. They are learning to navigate this on their own and I need to give them time.
- Don’t make threats I’m not willing to follow up on, like “I will take away your phone for a month if you don’t clean your room right now!”
- Remember that sometimes their discipline is a cruel and unusual punishment for me, so I need to be ready. Can’t drive for a week? Be prepared to be chauffeur!
- Let them fail! Didn’t we all learn our biggest lessons when we messed up big-time?
- On the other hand, I won’t let them completely shut the ‘rents out. Our “eat-out nights“, as we call them, are non-negotiable for our high school senior and eighth grader. We let the college senior slide, but he usually wants to come. Figure out their “chatty” times (usually later than you like!) and be available to talk.
Do you have any other ideas? I’m always open for input and advice!
On a completely different note, if you desire to help a college student who has little to no family support, Cyndy Hill, the Director of Parent Programs at Penn State, has requested for help for kids raised in foster homes or who are now homeless. If you are able, you can send her (or seek out this information from other college parent groups) gift cards to Amazon, snacks or gum, items for cold and flu season (cough drops, tissues, etc) or foods easy to prepare in dorm rooms (mac n cheese, ramen, or other non-perishables).
Her address at work is:
222 Boucke Building
University Park, PA 16802
Many universities have this same type of role, so check near you if you want to keep your contributions close to home.