Rekenekt by Trish Propson
Originally Published in the Times Villager
“I wish my mom would just back off. I can do things myself. She is so controlling.”
“I wish my dad would let me be me. He always tells me what to do. I can make my own decisions.”
Do these words, written on the rekenekt graffiti wall by area youth, sound familiar? I have heard similar words from my teens many times. As the movie Frozen has invaded our culture, we now know that to Let it Go is a good thing.
Blogger Lori Hatcher suggests parenthood is a Series of Letting Goes, especially for mothers. It is true. The child growing inside was completely ours in one moment, and in the next, we had no choice but to release this precious new creation to a waiting world. We were forced to let go for the very first time.
We taught him to walk. From the safety of our arms, our toddler careened on wobbly little legs, not towards, but away from us. We let go and cheered. On the first day of school, we shed tears as the school bus delivered her into a scary new world beyond the safety of our controlled borders. We let go and it was hard.
Do you remember the moment your child chose a friend over you for the first time? Simultaneously we felt thrilled at his social acceptance and sad knowing he didn’t need us. We let go and reminisced.
I will never forget the day my oldest daughter earned her driver’s license. We returned from the DMV and snapped a picture to capture the triumphant moment. I started into the house. She hesitated, “If it’s OK with you, Mom, I am going to a party.” Stunned, I heard myself say, “Uh…OK. Are you sure?” She confidently slid behind the wheel and drove off. Taillights disappeared from view. I let go and prayed.
I could share a hundred examples, and you could add your own. You get the point. We were designed to let go of our children. Parenthood, it has been said, is the only occupation that, when successful, you lose your job. It is true. In our heads we know our job is to train up our children, equip them for life, and release them into adulthood. For some, it’s easy. While for others, they fight the process the whole way.
Therapists call a teen’s natural process of disconnecting from parents ‘developmental individuating’. It is healthy and natural for teens to grow up, claim independence, discover their identity, and leave the nest. We knew that when we signed on as parents, but the goal blurred as they grew.
The letting go challenge looms largest during the teen years. Teens seeking autonomy need parents to set healthy boundaries, enforce consequences, help make decisions, and protect them from their own immaturity. Letting go doesn’t mean enabling your teen, giving up, or allowing them to make dangerous and irresponsible choices. It means equipping, not controlling, because you love them and want what’s best for their future.
Psychologists suggest the human brain does not fully develop until the mid-twenties. To further complicate the letting go process is the new American standard, which encourages teens to remain dependent on parents much longer than the age of maturity. So when do we hang on and when do we let go? We can’t wait until our children are fully mature to begin the process. We need to start letting go early and systematically choose opportunities to further the process until they leave the nest for the final time.
Take Five Action Steps
Letting go may be one of the hardest and most important things you do to equip your son or daughter for adulthood. Consider these five action steps to navigate the process.
- Examine your interactions. Determine what you can and should control and what you should let go. What motivates you? Why do you behave the way you do? Are you afraid? Is mistrust or guilt a factor? Are you depending on your teen to meet needs that may not be healthy? Identifying your motives is the first step to changing behavior. Be willing to acknowledge your attitudes and actions and apologize if necessary.
- Don’t fight it. Gaining independence is a natural process. The harder you fight, the worse letting go will be for both of you. Develop a plan with your teen to address the top five things you each need to own. Listen to what he is asking you to let go and share the things you want him to take responsibility for. If it seems even, he may accept it more readily.
- Allow them to fail. We often find ourselves rescuing our kids from the messes they create. Freedom to try and fail provides a much better learning environment than lecturing and controlling. Establish healthy boundaries, define consequences, and then let go. Instead of fixing her problems, reassure your daughter that mistakes are human, consequences are real, and you love her no matter what.
- Affirm your teen when they do take responsibility. A simple word of appreciation can go a long way to rebuilding trust. Once he begins to see you making an effort to let go, he may take responsibility in new areas. Be slow to react, and quick to praise.
- Celebrate when you get it right. Letting go is a long, complicated process. Some days will be better than others. Letting go doesn’t mean severing ties. The goal is to release your son or daughter into his or her own life. You may find that letting go is the very thing that brings you closer together.