Parenting Guide Part 7: Take Hold As We Let Go
Part VII of the series on Nature’s Parenting Process by Joseph Gauld
Concept # 4: Take Hold As We Let Go – part 1
Nature provided parents with a profound creative power in the growth process, granting us a great amount of authority and control, which we learn to discipline. We often unwittingly allow our authority to interfere with nature’s larger plan, particularly with the creative power nature has gifted to our children.
How many of us would have denied 15-year-old Dwight Eisenhower’s decision to refuse the amputation of his leg and instead, painfully tell the doctors to proceed? Most of us become so preoccupied with our own view of our children’s welfare, we fail to realize a truly responsible teenager also has a conscience and a vision.
We begin raising children with 100 percent of the responsibility for their lives, and they have zero percent. However, if we raise them well, at the end of adolescence, we parents are left with no more than 49 percent, and they with at least 51 percent.
So for roughly 19 years, our role is to orchestrate the transfer – the letting go – of at least 51 percent of our responsibility. Here is the acid test: is our child becoming more attentive and concerned about his/her future than we are? If so, our parenting is going well.
If we parents are not continually addressing this critical letting-go issue, we may retard our children’s growth – in some cases, permanently. Children have a fear of growing up, so given the opportunity, they will tend to hang on to parents as their safety net in life.
For parents, a better way than just “kicking the bird out of the nest,” is to gradually expect increased levels of responsibility from children. In the teenage years, it’s easier for children to assume the critical 51 percent responsibility from a 45 percent level than, say, from a 25 percent level.
Parents’ inability to let go of children is a huge problem in our society. We parents take far more responsibility for our children’s growth and decision-making than we should, particularly when our children fall off-track. As a result, children become dependent upon parental support in important areas where they should be depending upon themselves.
Why is letting go so hard? Of course we are deeply concerned about our children’s progress. But, in addition, focusing on our children’s problems lets us avoid examining deeper growth issues in our own lives. This is particularly noticeable and problematic when Junior is acting out. His misbehavior and/or disrespect put the growth of all other family members on hold. Parent (and siblings, too) think: “if Junior would just straighten out, our family would be fine.” This attitude unwittingly puts the most irresponsible family member at the center of (if not in control of) the entire family!
The more we parents try to help Junior, the less Junior needs to help himself – the key to the real solution. At a deeper level we parents understand this, but under pressure, our concern for Junior’s welfare overwhelms our better judgment.
So how do we turn the situation around? By recognizing that in the taking-hold-and-letting-go process, taking hold precedes letting go. We parents must first turn our attention to our own lives and take hold of our own growth issues and challenges. In doing so, we not only empower ourselves to effectively determine where our parental responsibilities end and Junior’s begin, we also model for Junior how to take hold of his own life.
The power of this taking-hold (and then letting-go) action may appear too simple to be true. But it works. It turns over to Junior his true responsibilities, and in so doing, sends a parental message of confidence that he can do it. If we don’t properly let go, we are conveying the message that we doubt Junior can do it.
Next week: Take Hold as We Let Go: Part 2