By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “the days are long, but the years are short.” Nothing makes that feel more true than when preparing your youngest to fly the coop. Looking back on my years of parenting there is a lot I have learned, trial by fire and all.
My role as a mental health professional gives me a unique view of parenthood, but no amount of education prepared me for all the curveballs life would throw along the way. My primary goal as a parent has always been to raise strong, independent children. I want them to feel confident when they enter the world. So how do we do this? How do we prepare our children for adulthood while still letting them be kids?
The first step is always being their biggest cheerleader. Make sure from the earliest stages of life they know you support them in their successes and their failures. Encourage them to take risks and support them when they’re scared. Being there to provide the emotional support they need will help them feel more confident in their ability to take life on as they mature.
Allow your kids to find their voice. Let them question decisions and walk them through why you make the choices you make. One thing we often get wrong in life is that confrontation means fighting. Healthy confrontation allows for growth and open, honest communication. Your child questioning your decisions doesn’t have to mean disrespect; rather, it can be a learning moment for everyone involved. It also allows you to help walk your child through their emotions, communicate clearly, and find healthy coping skills when things don’t go as expected.
I attended a training course a few years ago by renowned pediatrician Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, and one analogy stuck with me. It explained that as parents, our roles are to be the edges of life’s puzzle. Our kids have the job of filling in the rest of the pieces. They’re going to make mistakes and might try to put pieces in the wrong spots from time to time. We’re just providing the boundaries in which they work.
This analogy is beautiful to me and really speaks to the importance of providing guidance to our children. Life will hand them plenty of natural consequences when they put the pieces in the wrong place, and we will support them through those struggles. We’re giving them the opportunities to take on new roles and responsibilities within their lives.
It’s also important to remember that as kids grow, we need to give them more responsibilities and space to make their own decisions. Let them make their own appointments and phone calls when needed. Age-appropriate responsibilities as our babies turn into young adults will help them feel confident when advocating for themselves as adults. As much as we want them to be, they won’t be babies forever, so let’s teach them the skills they need to be self-sufficient, happy adults.