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It is one of the hardest things mothers, yes, parents, have to do – let go of their children. After all, we are the ones who carried them for nine months, rocked them to sleep, who saw them get on the bus for the first day of kindergarten, excited and nervous at the same time. We are the ones who went to every concert, every game, and every activity. We taught them manners and we demonstrated our values, beliefs and morals, hoping and praying they would accept them as their own. Mothers have been known to empty the piggy bank, look under the cushions of the sofas and even conduct a scavenger hunt through the house looking for change to donate to the “prom dress fund.” We cry with our daughter over the breakup of her first love. We hold our breath as our son races down the football field as a bunch of guys from the opposing team try with all their might to stop him. And then comes….The Day. We watch as our sons and daughters walk down the aisle to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” to receive a piece of paper that signifies the end of one era and the beginning of another. And before we know it, summer has passed, their bags and car are crammed to the brim with almost all of their worldly possessions and they leave for college, excited and nervous at the same time. (It seems as if it was only last month when they left for kindergarten.) And we let them go, not just physically, but also emotionally. Or at least we should. Frankly, we should have been letting them go gradually throughout the years. But letting go, especially during their teen years is so hard: “Am I letting them go too soon?” or “Am I doing the right thing?” we think to ourselves. But we must let our children go and there is a right way and a right time to do it.
I learned this lesson the hard way. My daughter is 29 and my son is 24. I raised them as a single mom from the time they were 12 and 7 because their dad left. I share this, not as an appeal for pity, but so you will have some insight into the decisions I made when raising them.
It is an entirely different world to raise children as a single parent. You realize that you alone are responsible for the lives of your children. It is a frightening prospect especially in this day and age. As a single mother, I made some good decisions but I made a lot of mistakes too. It is my hope that you will learn from my mistakes as you read further.
In some areas I was lenient with my children (I’m sure they would disagree!) and in some areas I was very strict. I know I wasn’t always consistent in my discipline. But the biggest mistake I made was not letting go emotionally of my children.
I really believed I had let go until a few weeks ago when my husband (their stepdad) pointed out to me that I was interfering – meddling – in their lives. I was shocked beyond speech! Me? Meddling?? Never! Ah, but alas, indeed I was. What I had said or asked my kids over the last few years had been out of my love and concern for them, or so I thought. It was not in my mind each morning when I woke up to think, “How can I meddle in my children’s lives today?” But the advice with which I had freely showered them had never been requested by them. After several days of thinking upon what my husband had said, I realized he was right. A light bulb moment!! I prayed about this, asking God to forgive me and to give me an opportunity to talk to both of my children so that I could apologize to them.
A couple of weeks later my son was home from New Orleans where he is stationed. He and my daughter were in the kitchen and no one else was around. God spoke and said, “Now is the time.” So I went and sat down with them and apologized. I explained that I had not realized I had been interfering in their lives, but I knew it now and would try my best never to interfere again. They were so gracious and both of them – grinning from ear to ear – told me they accepted my apology even though there was no need to apologize. “After all,” they said, “you were just being a mom.” Hugs and kisses all around!
So if I had to do it all over again, knowing what I know now, what would I do differently?
First, I would try to always ensure that the discipline meted out to both of them would be consistent.
Next, I would start at an early age, at least by six, to give my children chores appropriate to their age and pay them, if financially able, if they did their chores well. This begins to teach them how to deal with responsibilities, how to be accountable and how to handle money. I would have them give 10% of their money to the church, 20% in savings and the rest would be theirs to spend how they would want.
In the years from 6 to 12, I would increase their responsibilities a little each year and give them an increase in how much money they would receive. I would continue having them split the money as already mentioned.
Once the children reached 12 years old, I would teach them how to do their laundry (and I did do this with both my son and daughter) and from that point on, it would be up to them to do their laundry. If they didn’t have clean clothes, that would be their problem. When I did this with my kids, I got a lot of flak from people who found out about it. But they didn’t live in my house or know what was going on in our lives. There was no harm done to my children. And in fact, when my grandson turned 12, my daughter gave him a laundry basket and taught him how to do his laundry.
If I had to do it all over again, they would be required to keep their room clean at all times. I did not require my children to keep their rooms clean all the time. I would ask them politely to clean their rooms. I would fuss at them to clean their rooms. I would threaten them, which usually worked. But after a while I got extremely tired of fussing and threatening and they got tired of hearing me. So I told them that I would not fuss or threaten them anymore. You should have seen the ecstatic joy on their faces! I did tell them that if they wanted to live in a pig sty that’s what they could do. Again, people who heard about this were horrified!! But you know what? It worked. Oh sure, there were times when their rooms could have qualified as a pig sty, but at that point, the kids always seemed to get tired of the way their rooms looked and they would clean them.
Once the kids turned 12, I would allow them to go with the church youth group or a group of friends, if I knew the friends and their parents, to an extracurricular activity. They would not be allowed to date until after they turned 16.
The teens would be expected to get a part-time job if their school grades were acceptable. They would still be expected to give 10% to the church, 20% into savings and the remainder would be theirs to blow as they wanted to.
If and only if their grades were acceptable, would I allow them to get their driver’s license at 16. There would be many ground rules surrounding their driving. If any of the rules were broken, they would lose the privilege of driving. Yes, it is a privilege and an extremely serious responsibility that they would be taught to not take lightly.
At 17, these kids are almost no longer kids. At least in the eyes of the law. Most 17 years old are seniors in high school about to venture forth into the world and by now, parents should be ready emotionally to let them go.
But how, you ask. Emotionally, you should have started gradually letting your children go when he or she took their first step – and their first fall. You cannot protect them from falling forever, and you shouldn’t even try with their first fall, unless of course, he or she is in imminent danger if they do fall. Am I saying that you ignore your child when they take their first tumble? Goodness, NO! Run over, pick that baby up and hug him or her with all your might, making sure they are not seriously hurt. But remind yourself when you do, that this is the first fall of many, you are not going to be able to protect them from falling, and there will come a day when you may not even be able to comfort them when they fall.
As they get older, and new adventures and activities come along in which they want to participate, remind yourself that this is another step they are taking away from you – an adventure that, even though you may participate in it with them – it still means they are growing up and growing away from you.
Before you know it, there will come a day where you will need to allow them to begin making some decisions on their own that affect their life at least during that period of their life. I am not saying that you just let your kids go and do whatever they please. Allow them to make decisions that will teach them that their decisions and actions will reap consequences. For example, if your child wants to take a particular class in school and you see no reason for him or her not to take that class, then let him/her make the decision to do so. But make sure they understand the consequences of their decision. Once he or she is enrolled in the class, they can’t change their mind and decide they no longer want to take it. And, they are expected to do the work required and make a good grade.
Hopefully, by the time your child turns 16, you have given him or her enough responsibilities and enough opportunities to make decisions that they are now prepared to make more important and perhaps, life changing decisions. Now is the time to start looking at colleges. They need to be allowed to decide what college they want to attend and what they want to major in. Certainly, you need to tell them what your finances can handle, so if they need to apply for grants and scholarships, they will be prepared to do so. Don’t allow them to think they can choose the most expensive university in the country because you will be setting them and yourself up for a major disappointment if you cannot pay the required fees of that university.
Throughout this process of allowing your children to make some of their own decisions, continue to remind yourself that they are growing up and growing away from you and that is how it should be. In fact, at the age of 16 there is only two short years before your son or daughter will be graduating and going away to college. Begin now, while they are still at home, to think of what you will do when they are gone. This is important, especially if you are going to be an empty nester. Think about a new hobby, a new job, challenge yourself to do something you’ve never done but always wanted to or go somewhere you’ve never been but always wanted to go there. Because these last two years will be gone in a heartbeat.
So enjoy your children while they are with you. But remember to let them go when it’s time.
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