Parenting without pushing and pulling isn’t easy. Especially for an enthusiastic mom like me.
My enthusiasm for launching new projects is kind of legendary among my children. They know they can count on me to enthusiastically support any new endeavor. But believe me when I say that they are just as likely to roll their eyes when describing this particular character trait of mine, as they are to smile in agreement.
That’s because this “legendary” part of my personality can be a bit bossy.
I can get carried away.
Before I know it, my enthusiasm begins to edge out my kid’s voices and agency.
In my efforts to be supportive, to be a cheerleader, to encourage and edify, I somehow assign myself the task of leading the charge.
Now my counseling experience has taught me that simply telling people what to do rarely results in any lasting change. And I can testify to the beauty of how gently asking questions and helping someone come to understand their own interior thoughts, behaviors, and desires for their lives can result in new motivation leading to lasting transformation.
But I still struggle with this in my role as mother to three adult children who are at the beginning edges of discovering what their lives will hold. I’m so tempted to jump in with both feet and “help” them with research, suggestions, and a whole bunch more. It must begin to sound like buzzing in their ears as I come up with a detailed five-point plan for making their dreams a reality.
My daughter Emily graciously concedes that my tendency to ride in on a white horse waving my checklist for how she and her brothers could quickly and efficiently achieve their life goals (at least in my mind) comes from a good place – as it does with all parents. We just love them so darn much! We want them to succeed and have happy pain free lives. And we have SO much experience and wisdom and knowledge that could help them – if they would only listen.
But what I’ve come to learn, and must remind myself of all the time, is that when I try to do too much for my kids (and that includes coming up with some really great ways for their projects to succeed) I’m actually sending them the exact opposite message than the one I want to communicate.
Instead of saying, “I believe in you! You’ve got this!” my excessive enthusiasm and over-functioning tells them that I don’t think they can do it without me.
Even worse, after a lifetime of excessive support, I risk teaching them to be dependent on me or someone else, possibly planting the thought that they aren’t strong enough or smart enough or motivated enough to conquer their own lives. And that’s not true.
When my friend Jackie’s son Nicholas was a little guy, like about three feet tall, she used to put her hand on the back of his head while they were walking, trying to guide or steer him in the right direction. In his little boy voice, he would look up and say angrily, “Don’t push me like that!” Clearly Nicholas did not experience his mother’s hand as the positive guiding force she meant it to be. He didn’t like being “pushed” and that’s a very good reminder for me about how I want to parent. Pushing and pulling anyone along, getting them to do things my way – even if I believe with all my heart that my way will work! – is exhausting. And it’s not the way to parent healthy kids who grow into independent, productive, confident human beings.
Yes, I want to be a resource for my adult children – if they want or need my input. But I also want to trust that their lives are unfolding just as God has planned. As they have grown into three of the most incredible young people I know, I’m finding that the balance between loving them fiercely and letting them go out into the world without me is the same as it has been since they were tiny.
Finding the balance between supporting and pushing my kids has been my parenting challenge all along.
I had to learn how to do it when I sent them to Kindergarten. And when I watched the bus drive away to sixth-grade camp. When they drove off in the car for the first time freshly licensed behind the wheel. And when I dropped them off for their freshman year at college. And I’m having to learn it all over again now as they enter into their lives as adults. Did you catch that? Their lives. Not mine. As a parent to adult children, I’m taking my place on the sidelines – to cheer them on and love them as deeply as ever, but with a difference. No more pushing. No more pulling. Just believing that God’s promises for them are true and because of Him, they’ve got this.