An important part of mastering the whole parent experience is accepting one’s lack of control. Kids can be taught and guided. However, no parent can exercise complete control over their children. At the end of the day, children have the ability to comply with or rebel against any command. Unfortunately, even smart children also have the potential to make bad choices.
A Shepard, Not a Leash
This lack of control means parents must think like a shepherd, not someone walking a dog on a leash. A parent can try this approach and lock down the options available to their child. However, what happens when a dog decides to ignore the holder of a leash? A struggle ensues, and sometimes the leash is yanked out of the owner’s hand. A shepherd is available to help when trouble comes, but still, works on trust and guidance rather than tight control.
The leash and shepherd may not be a perfect analogy. However, when you think about a leash, then it implies tight control and a lack of options. A shepherd approach is loose and allows for wandering.
This lack of control may seem scary for a parent, but any control assumed is an illusion. A child can rebel or will eventually grow to an adult and be on their own. The key to parenting is to help children grow to become capable adults, not remain under the thumb.
The Wild Child
There are no guarantees in how children will react to their upbringing. However, think of how common it is for a tightly controlled child to “go wild” once they get out from under their parents. A “wild” period is not always destructive, but it does seem to lead to regrets more often than not. The wild part of the reaction is due to a lack of self-control. A child that never developed skills for relating to others and making decisions has just be forced to learn on the job in a sense. They grow up into an adult that has to make those decisions without a safety net.
In a sense, this is what the complaint is about “snowflakes.” The children that were never allowed to experience loss or any offense have to leave that bubble. The world will offend and make people into winner or losers. When these situations are not experienced as a child, then it creates a challenging situation in adulthood. We expect a certain level of coping and relating ability from adults. That expectation and a lack of guidance make life lessons much harder to learn. For example, think of a child that never experiences the death of a pet or loved one until adulthood. The burdens all adults carry (job, relationships, etc.) cannot be set aside to learn how to cope with the loss. Instead, the weight can become overwhelming.
Mother not Smother
The show “The Goldbergs” often refers to the mother as a “smother.” This concept is often part of the story and how a line can be crossed in the effort to provide for your children. It is not easy to watch your child fail or suffer. It may even be worse for the parent than the child. However, a step back to allow a child to work through their problems can help them become a better person. It also can reduce parental stress as you lower the bar from perfect protector to sympathetic guide as your role. You wanted your parents to let you grow. So honor the promise you made to “not be like that” and let your child spread their wings. You will be amazed at the incredible adults they become.