Getting Your Child Ready To Leave
It is that time of year when many of us have a child leaving. Our child may be getting on the school bus for the very first time, starting a new school, leaving for college or a gap year, or perhaps getting married and really leaving home. Or you may have a little one going to preschool for the first time. It could be our first child or our last.
Whatever the transition our emotions are apt to be all over the place from, “Ah, finally, I will have some time for me” to overwhelming tears of loss. Likely we’ll experience a little of both – mixed with joy and pride.
How well I remember driving away from the dorm after leaving Susy at college. Just the week before we had left Libby, her twin and soul mate, at another college. These were the last of our five children.
My husband John had planned a romantic night in a mountain inn on the way home. Not a good decision. Instead, I cried all the way home. My poor husband. It was not just the fact that my last were leaving it was also the pain of their being separated for the first time ever. It had been their decision and it proved to be a wise one in their maturity, but at the time all I felt was grief.
From the time our child is born we know this day will come and part of raising them involves preparing them to leave — as healthy, confident adults. But most of us don’t factor in the sadness it will bring us!
Some parents coddle their children too much and others give too much freedom too soon. The challenge is finding balance. Raising kids who will be ready to leave involves intentional planning at each stage of their development. Here are a few tips:
1. Raising confident, independent kids begins when they are small. Train your toddlers to make their beds, to put away their toys. You are training them in self discipline. Their bed won’t look perfect, but praise them for their accomplishment.
Teach your kids to make their own lunches. Of course oversee it, but this is something they can do by themselves. They may groan but you are teaching them personal responsibility. Be sure to let them know how proud you are of them. Confidence grows as a child learns to do something for himself.
2. Teach your children to write thank you notes. Young children can draw pictures and have Mommy write the note. For older kids, set a deadline by which they must mail their notes or they will lose privileges. They are going to need to know how to write thank you notes for a job interview one day. Now they need to learn to appreciate the gifts given and things done for them by grandparents as well as others.
3. As your child enters middle school and high school, increase personal responsibilities. When our son John was in about eighth grade I mistakenly washed his t-shirts with his sister’s red blouse turning his shirts pink. “Mom,” he exclaimed in total exasperation, “don’t ever touch my shirts again!”
What a marvelous idea, I thought and thus began a new rite of passage in the Yates household. When you enter eighth grade you begin to do your own wash.
A friend of mine always did her son’s laundry. When he went off to college she got a frantic phone call, “Mom, my favorite new shirt is way too small,” he exclaimed. “What happened?” Our college kids will have enough adjustments without having to experience the shock of shrinking shirts. They should be adept at their own laundry before they leave home.
4. Our high school kids should be managing their own money and making and keeping their own appointments (dental, doctor, etc.). Teach them how to budget and make sure they follow through. There are many tools on the internet to help with this. Far too many college kids get themselves in debt because they have not had to stick to a budget. You will be less likely to give in to the dangerous habit of “bailing your child out” if he has learned how to stick to a budget while at home.
5. When your child leaves home beware of falling into one of two traps. The first is becoming a “helicopter parent” who constantly texts, tweets, and emails her child, advising on daily activities and many decisions. Although she wants her child to be self confident she is actually undermining her confidence by making too many decisions. This communicates to the child, “You may not make the right decision so I will make it for you.” This is not healthy.
Another trap is that of a “hands off parent.” Her attitude may be, “I raised her to be independent and now she’s gone so I’ll wait until I hear from her. She now is on her own to make decisions.” Weeks can go by without any communication. This is too extreme. You need to be involved in major decisions-rooming, grades, health. A weekly phone call is a good idea.
6. If your child has just gotten married, understand that your relationship has really changed! Your priority is no longer your relationship with your child but it is the marriage relationship. To your child, the spouse comes first, not his or her relationship with you. You need to pull back.
So when your daughter calls and says, “Mom do you think we should get a red couch or a blue one?” Your answer should be, “What does your husband (or wife) think?” Our goal is now to push them to each other not to keep them attached to us. Many a young marriage has had a difficult start because a parent has not been able to let go.
As fall hits and we experience different types of “leavings” it is helpful to remember that this is a transition. Transitions are awkward and sometimes a bit messy for everyone involved. Be patient and grant extra grace. Leaving is a part of growing in independence and the promise of adult friendships with our children is one of the great blessings to look forward to.