When our kids are little, our job is to do all the things to keep them safe. We bubble wrap them from all the perils of the world by being their protector, provider, healer, instructor, mediator, and fixer. We move mountains to keep them healthy and slay giants to keep them whole. It’s an all-consuming role that instinctively kicks in with a fury the moment we become a mother. No one can prepare us for this momma bear tendency. There aren’t words to describe such a fierce inner roar. It simply makes itself known, and then we know.
But we don’t get to play this role in our kids’ lives forever. As they transition into teens and young adults, we must let them experience hardship, suffering, failure, and harsh consequences from poor decisions. We must let them slay their own giants and move their own mountains. No one prepares us for this either, how to tame the momma bear within and let our kids find their way. There aren’t words to describe the primal ache of letting go. The pain simply makes itself known, and then we know.
The ache we feel is steeped in fear. Fear our kids will falter without some sort of parental intervention. Fear they’ll ruin their futures, suffer needlessly, take a wrong path, miss out on something big, or reap unfortunate consequences if we don’t step in supermom the day.
We can’t help it, really. We spend 18 years loving on our kids like there’s no tomorrow, and then tomorrow comes. We aren’t prepared. The uncertainty of letting go makes us seasick because we lose track of the horizon of their childhood. The disorientation leaves us questioning whether we’ve done enough to prepare them for life on their own. Our fears can be overwhelming.
So, what do we do with this dread and longing to intervene when we know we must set our kids free? How do we see the writing on the wall of an ill-advised choice and say nothing? How do we not jump in and try to fix what we know is broken, so our kids don’t suffer? How do we transition from all-hands-on-deck participants to watchful observers of our young adult children’s lives? How do we trust they’ve learned enough about survival and success by being observers of our lives for 18 years?
There is no easy answer because, like anything, adjusting to such a role reversal takes time. But here are a few shifts in perspective that can help you find your way as a parent during this season.
First, you need to flip the script on your fear, which starts with recognizing this truth: it isn’t what’s actually happening to our kids that stresses us out, but what we think about what’s happening (or will happen) to them that eats us alive.
We’re often consumed by false assumptions or future-driven narratives filled with worst-case scenarios and bad news predictions about their lives. When we are fixated on the fears, frustration, and worry we’ve projected onto our kids, we can’t see what’s right in front of us: grown children who we’ve nurtured, loved, fought for, cared for, and stopped the world for who are more than capable of independence precisely because we busted our asses to set them up for it to the best of our ability.
Yes, they’ll suffer. Yes, they’ll rail against the consequences of bad choices. Yes, they’ll fail. So did we at their age, right? How did we survive? We figured out how life works one day at a time. We learned how to bounce back from hardships, ease our suffering, and make better choices on. our. own. Partly because of what our parents instilled in us and partly because of what they didn’t.
Our kids need us to trust their evolution and honor their independence, so they grow in confidence and believe in their ability to find their way, manage stress, strive toward goals, and work out of the aftermath of wrong turns. If our default is to insert our opinion, express what we think is right or wrong, or continue to place flares along their path to steer our kids in a direction that is more comfortable ‘for us,’ we are impeding their developing sense of agency.
They need the opportunity to learn from their failures, dig themselves out of a hole, and nurture themselves back to healing so they can build the resolve they need to carry themselves forward. Then they need us to cheer them forward and champion their abilities, to step aside and offer encouragement and affirmation. These actions go a forever way in helping them grow into adults who feel in control of how they respond to life.
Another shift in perspective is to change your “sky is falling mindset” to a spirit of accepting you don’t really know for sure what will happen. Instead of imagining all the things that could go wrong, be more open to what might go right. This fills us with hopeful anticipation about how our kids will find their way out of the mess and what lessons they’ll learn. It forces us to consider what we already know. And what we already know about our teens and young adults comes from a lifetime of observation.
We’ve watched them mature, reach milestones, and overcome. We’ve witnessed their strengths take root and their gifts begin to blossom. Now we can get to witness how these gifts and strengths will carry them forward. How will they handle the tough situation? How will their suffering transform them? Imagining them finding their way—like we KNOW they can—is what fills us with hope. And then, when we see our kids make it on their own, the awe and wonder are of another kind.
This new role in motherhood is hard as hell for sure. But no matter what season we are in as mommas, all we can do is our best. We swallow heaping spoonfuls of Grace on the daily and we find our way right alongside our children.
This was a contributed post from Shelby Spear. Shelby is a sappy soul whisperer, sarcasm aficionado, pro-LOVE Jesus adoring mom of 3 Millennials writing stuff & doing life w/ hubs of 25 yrs. She is the co-author of the book, How Are You Feeling, Momma? (You don’t need to say, “I’m fine.” You can read her open heart about the revelations, screw-ups, gaffes, and joys of motherhood on her blog shelbyspear.com, around the web, and in print at Guideposts.
How To Raise An Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims (2015-09-10)How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons to Help Your Child Become Self-Driven, Respectful, and ResilientGrown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent AdultsDoing Life with Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out