Each stage of parenting presents its own challenges. If you’re a parent, you know exactly what I mean.
With newborns, sleep is a challenge.
With toddlers, potty training is a challenge.
With preschoolers, everything feels like a challenge.
And the list goes on.
When your child becomes a teenager, one of the biggest challenges of your parenting life is just around the corner. You will usually face it about when they turn 17. And this challenge will last the rest of your life.
What is it?
How do you parent your kids when they are no longer kids?
I know, I know. Your 17 year-old is still your baby. He’s still just a kid. She’s still just a kid. But, they are also hitting the age when they need to make decisions without you.
Young adults today live in a culture that’s significantly different than the one you and I lived in. Options are different. Conversations about identity are different. Pressures are different.
For many of us, especially with our oldest child, look at our kids and we look at culture and we think, “They’re not ready.” And our natural inclination, driven by our love for them and our desire to protect them, is to make decisions for them—just the way we did for them when they were 4 years old.
The problem with that approach … is that if we continue to parent the same way we did when they were preschoolers … they will never grow up. They will never learn.
The key to parenting well when your kids are no longer kids is surrender.
If you fight this transition, you will lose. If you attempt to control them, you will lose. If you shield them from the consequences of their decisions and actions … everyone will lose.
The reason surrender is the key is because the true challenge we face is fear.
We’re afraid of what might happen.
We’re afraid of what might not happen.
We’re afraid of what they might choose.
We’re afraid of what they might not choose.
In those moments, out of love, we typically default to controlling. We typically default to telling. And if our not-a-kid-anymore resists us, we resort to what we did when they were 4 years old … we punish. We take away the phone, the wifi, the car. We fight.
But what worked when they were 4 … doesn’t work anymore.
We need to surrender control. We need to embrace the fact that they are hitting the point in their lives where they need to decide and experience the consequences of those decisions. We need to understand that our role as their parent has fundamentally shifted.
The one fundamental shift we need to make—about when our kids turn 17—is the shift from telling to asking.
We can’t tell them what to do anymore. We have to ask questions that help them figure things out. We can’t impose our will on them the way we used to. We have to ask them what they think they should do and why.
Yes. It’s frustrating.
Yes. It takes longer and feels like a waste of time because you clearly already know what they should do (wink wink).
Yes. They will make decisions that aren’t always the best.
That’s what growing up is.
And if we, as their parents, don’t make this shift from telling to asking when our kids are really no longer kids, we will lose. We will lose the ability to speak into their lives. We will lose whatever positive influence we have with them.
Most importantly, we will lose the opportunity to see them grow and flourish and discover who they are. And we’ve invested too much to this point to miss out on that part of the journey.