We’ve all heard that, as parents, we need to give our children roots and wings. Well, I think we can all agree that the “roots” part is easy. We love them consistently, provide for their basic needs, let them know that they are, and will always be, a part of a family. We play together, pray together, support each other–all the while sinking those roots deep into the ground of family togetherness.
But what about the wings? Do we really have to encourage the development of those? I mean, I’d rather just keep my littles safely under my protective wing for all of their days. The problem with that is, how will they ever complete the important mission that God has for them to do in the world? Every child has unique gifts, talents and personality traits that God will use to touch others and further His kingdom. It is our responsibility, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to make those wings strong and sure so that when they leave the nest they will soar!
Here are a few pointers for parents to help you in the wing-shaping process:
- Please don’t be a helicopter parent. When our children are in elementary school we want to be there as much as possible for their protection and support. It’s a way we can show them that we care. For example: Going on a field trip with your 2nd grader? Awesome sauce! Good job on racking up those volunteer hours! Going on every single field trip and event with your middle-schooler? Not so cool. And when high school rolls around if you are still going on every single trip and showing up at school every time there is an opportunity… it may be time to clip your rotors (the spinning things on helicopters). Why should I let my older student experience things by themselves? Well, there are several great reasons: First of all, they will learn to navigate new situations without mom. This is an important skill for life–figuring out what to do without an adult making the decisions for you. Also, an older student on a trip may have to keep up with their own tickets, get to a meeting place on time, manage their own cash for the trip, etc., all of which help to develop responsibility. Another skill your child will develop if you are not there is that of listening for themselves/tuning in to the instructions given by the leaders. If you are always there, your child will rely on you to hear and remember the pertinent information. Listening/tuning in to instructions is a crucial life skill. Lastly, every time your child experiences time away from you on their own they gain confidence that they can, indeed, navigate the world on their own.
- Allow your older child to do their own homework. Does this really need to be said? From my teaching experience, I’m afraid so. I’ve known parents who have spent hours sitting by their middle school child at the table coaxing them painstakingly through every question (blood pressure rising to dangerous levels by the minute) so that they could turn in completed and accurate homework! Life is too short for that, parents. What will happen if your older child has to do his/her homework by themselves? They will learn about consequences for not following directions or turning things in late or incomplete. They will learn to ask questions regarding material they just don’t understand. Is your middle school/high school child confident enough to say, “Mrs. Jones, I don’t get this. Do you think you could find a time to help me?” Asking for help when needed is another important life skill. I can’t say that we never helped any of our kids on the occasional science fair project. In fact, working on projects can be a special time for parent and child to do something challenging and fun together! My kids still remember the “sunscreen project”, the “Orange juice project”, and the “electric current project” that their dad helped them with. (probably some form of punishment I gave him for letting the trash pile up or something, ha,ha) Allowing children to do their own daily homework, reaching out for help when needed, will grow them and ultimately build their confidence, not to mention help them with time management.
- Encourage your older child to do their own communicating with friends, teachers and coaches when there is an issue. This is especially important for high school students. Are you calling the school every time your student doesn’t like the grade they got on a test? How about when your child doesn’t feel they are getting enough playing time in their sport? In cases like this it is important to have a conversation with your child to clarify the issue and maybe give them some wisdom as to how to proceed. And certainly, pray with them. But, your child needs to learn to respectfully approach the teacher or coach and set up a time to meet with them in private to discuss their issue. Even older elementary students can be encouraged to talk to their teacher if they have an issue in the classroom. Perhaps, you as the parent can prepare the teacher by sending a quick email stating that, “Johnny has an issue he would like to talk to you about”. That way she will be sure to make it happen.
- Allow your older child to cross the “bridges to adulthood” with confidence and in a timely manner. I am talking about driving, getting a part-time job, spending the day with a group of friends without you, etc. Of course, you know your own child and must use wisdom as to when they are ready but, don’t let your own fear be a roadblock for them as they try to spread their wings and navigate life independently. If you are a believer, you must understand that these children in your nest are not yours anyway. They are on loan to you from our creator, God, who has a plan and purpose for their lives. And you can trust him. He loves them infinitely more than even you do.
- Include your child in family plans and decisions. Let your child know that his/her opinion has value and his/her input is appreciated. We were not always the best at this, given our authoratative parenting style, but we tried to respect their opinions and not to belittle or exclude them. If you raise your children with respect and appreciate their contribution to the family, they will more likely have the confidence to contribute their ideas and opinions in the wider world. This is so important if they are going to have an impact on the kingdom as adults. Now more than ever, we need young people who will speak up for Christian values in the world.
- Teach your children that God loves them and has a plan for them. Help them understand that if they walk in His ways they will have Holy Spirit power to succeed and to impact the world in big and small ways. Model for them kindness, generosity (of pocket and spirit!), and respect. These three things will go a long way towards making them responsible, independent, caring, impactful adults who will make the world a better place!
So, that doesn’t sound too hard, does it? In a nutshell, we as parents are to:
*Provide opportunities for growth and development
*Encourage our children’s gifts and strengths
*Teach our children that God is real, ever-present and all-powerful!
And ultimately…let go of their hand, give them a gentle push, and let God take it from there.
Beth and Eric have 3 children and 2 grandchldren. Nick is a dentist in the US Navy and is married to Danielle. Nathan is in graduate school in sport psychology and married to Jessica. And Kari, is a sophomore in college studying athletic training.