Clichés can be useful to capture a moment or a feeling, but they seem so inadequate at really pivotal times; mere words bobbing on the surface of a churning lake of feeling.
For our family, this summer has been about "letting go": Our two eldest kids, 18 and 16, went off on adventures with friends, no mum and dad supervision. Waving them off with a cheery “be safe", "be careful” and “I love you to the moon and back” seemed appropriate, even though deep down the process of acknowledging their independence felt much like a wrench. I was in a time warp – surely we can’t be at this stage already? They might be ready – but I’m not sure I am!
Of course we want our children to become independent and competent adults, fulfilling their unique and special potential, showing compassion for others, having fun with like-minded friends. It’s just that letting go can be fraught with worry and self doubt for parents. I asked myself: “Have we done enough to prepare them?”, “Can (and will) they make good decisions when it really matters?” (And, "Will they eat something other than two minute noodles for five days?")
It’s at this point that all the early years of parenting come into sharp relief. While there are never guaranteed outcomes, we can feel a certain level of confidence that the values we established in the early years will provide a “GPS” for our kids as they navigate this next phase. Talking about and being a role model (as best as we can!) of our values as a family has hopefully given our kids a sense of right and wrong, how to be decent, caring New Zealanders and, most importantly, their own personal skills and competencies as “masters of their own destinies”.
We hear a bit about “helicopter parenting” and its cousin “lawnmower parenting” these days; terms that refer to parenting that hovers over children's lives or mows any impediments in their pathway to success. When letting go feels too scary and the stakes seem too high, we as parents can be tempted to intervene to ensure our children’s uninterrupted success and happiness. The truth is though, that helping our children to develop their own sense of competence and autonomy over their lives will naturally involve them having to navigate some challenges; difficult emotions and situations. Our lives can be messy and tricky and, at times, s**t actually does happen!
As parents can provide the soft place to fall; to listen, acknowledge, understand and provide support so our kids can develop their own skills, rather than expecting mum and dad to sort it. Having a set of clear family values is a really useful place to start as this gives parents and children some direction (a “GPS”) to navigate with. You can ask yourself:
What are our values as a family? (Eg. honesty, compassion)
What do these values "look/sound" like on a day-to-day basis?
What are the strengths we parents have to support our children? (Eg. We enjoy humour as a family.)
What are the strengths our children have that can help them develop their own competence?
Wouldn’t it be a great start to the school year for all our children to have their own values “GPS” and know their unique strengths!
For our family, we’re very grateful and fortunate that our kids have returned from summer adventures safely. Stories to tell – some to share and some...perhaps not so much! “All’s well that ends well”.....for now. There’ll be more pivotal moments just around the corner!
Lynley Forde is a specialist teacher with post graduate qualifications in psychology and education. She is co-founder of 2flourish - a new Shore-based business supporting parents and children in wellbeing and strengths-based parenting. www.2flourish.nz