Being a parent is a non-stop event. We face daily challenges, crises and emergencies. Schedules become impossible. Illnesses and injuries catch us off guard and are emotionally (and sometime financially) draining. We face homework, practice sessions, tutors or team meetings and the pressure only gets worse as we move along. This constant pressure often results in marital stress and conflict. Arguments and struggles become more manageable and healthy when we set down common goals.

Stop and think about what your goal should be

I would like to challenge every parent to have one single goal. That goal is to prepare each child so they can be 100% ready to become an independent person as they move from teenage years into being a young adult. That does not sound like a very unusual goal but it gets lost under the pressures of daily life.

Financial independence

It is a constant source of amazement to me that young couples will come into my office wanting to talk about marriage while one or both have never written a check or paid a bill. Not only have they not talked about how they would survive financially, they have not talked about budgets or discussed their individual financial goals. They think it strange when I hand them a paper and say, “Tell me how you will pay for your first month of married life.” Many have not paid rent because their parents have covered those major expenses. Most are driving cars that were provided by parents (or at least some of the major expenses have been covered by parents). No one ever expected them to know what it cost to live.

Work ethic independence

We as parents like to think we are being good parents by making it possible for our kids to have the free time to play sports, be in drama class, become Girl or Boy Scouts and be active in church or social activities. Somewhere down inside of us, parents must think that jobs (and working for a living) will come soon enough and don’t rush it. We want our children to have a “childhood” without really being burdened by any adult responsibilities. What a shock for our children to find out that it is hard work to work hard! Working in an environment that requires accountability, stability, punctuality, self-discipline, commitment, and willingness to accept authority should not be put off until later. These qualities of character must be developed from an early age. Insist that they mow lawns, babysit, do community service jobs with little financial reward or raise money for a worthy long-term goal to build these work ethic habits.

Behavioral independence

I would like to get my hands on the guy who made the public claim that everyone needs to sow some wild oats before they settle down. Wild oats is bad news from a behavioral perspective. Even worse are parents who step in and take the cost of bad behavior upon themselves when it should be the children who pay. I was standing in line behind a parent and a teenage child recently. The mother was complaining that she was struggling to pay the daughter’s THIRD traffic ticket! I asked her why her daughter was not paying for the ticket herself. The mother seemed offended that anyone might think that her half-way-grown-up child would have to get a job and work to pay for her traffic ticket. We need to you start teaching parents that mature parents need teach to correct attitudes to their children. ¬†Parents need to let their children benefit from the lessons of life.

Spiritually independence

I define being spiritually independent as having become a person who is accountable for their own relationship with Jesus Christ. Children get comfortable letting “mom and dad do it” when it comes to taking the lead in spiritual discipline. I’ve seen parents of middle school age children who expect the children’s grandparents to get the kids to church and enroll them in Bible School. Without ever taking the leadership role themselves for their own lives, they fail to give the parental leadership needed to teach their own families. Being an adult means living a life with all of the healthy disciplines. You need healthy diet and exercise. You need cleanliness and hygiene. You need education and intellectual growth and development. And you need the stability and strength of spiritual maturity. Let down in any of these disciplines and things begin to fall apart.

Emotional independence

I wanted my children to think for themselves and be responsible for their own emotional makeup. One of the things I would not do for my kids was untangling shoelaces. Every child takes their nasty, matted (and usually soggy) tangled shoe laces to their mom or dad to untangle. I would simply hand the shoe laces back to the frustrated child saying, “There is no knot you can’t untie.” They would cry and wail, “I’ve tried but I can’t!” I would sit there and coach them on which part of the knot to work loose next (usually while they wept, “My fingers can’t do it!”). You already know that sooner or later the knot would start to loosen up and then unravel. The tears would have subsided before the shoe string was finally free of tangles and I would turn their faces toward mine. I would look closely into their eyes and repeat very softly but firmly, “There is NO KNOT….no knot…..absolutely no knot…that YOU can’t untie.”

They understood that I was not just talking about shoe laces.

Photo credit: Woodlegwonderworks licensed under Creative Commons

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