Supporting Your Teen on Their Journey to Independence - Salvation Army Canada

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    Supporting Your Teen on Their Journey to Independence

    How to let go as your children grow up. September 30, 2013 by Major Kathie Chiu
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    He seemed more anxious to leave than he was sad to go. When did that happen? Emotions washed over me—fear, anxiety, pride, love. Thoughts clouded my mind. He's too young! What if he gets sick? He'll do so well! I'll miss him so much!

    My son was off to camp for the summer and even though I had been through this before with his older siblings, I didn't realize how hard it would be. Teenagers grow up, don't want to go on vacation with their parents and become far too independent for their mothers after a summer away. But isn't that what life is all about?

    I remember when independence happened for me. I was 17 and asked my mother if I could go to a friend's party. She said, “Well, that's up to you. You're 17 now. Just let me know where you are and what time you'll be home.” I remember thinking, “Is she up to something?” But looking back now, I know what she was doing—she was letting go. I was her youngest and she had been through this before. My oldest brother joined the military at 17. My mother had to sign a consent form for him because it was just before his 18th birthday. Now that would be hard. (And if my two youngest boys are reading this, don't even think about it!)

    What scares me about my children's newfound independence? I'm afraid they'll be like me or their dad. I'm afraid their experiments with freedom will go badly wrong.

    All of this is natural and normal. Teenagers grow up as they're supposed to. “It is all letting go ... from the moment of birth,” says Shari Young Kuchenbecker, PhD, a research psychologist and author of Raising Winners: A Parent's Guide to Helping Kids Succeed On and Off the Playing Field. “Moms and dads should strive to build the child's skills and good judgment (self-efficacy) so the child grows up capable. To achieve this, as experiences unfold, parents monitor progress and provide support when needed.”

    However, I want to make sure they don't make the same mistakes I did. I want their journey to be easier and kinder to them. I don't want their life ruined by a bad choice or terrible tragedy. Basically, I want control. I want to be the author of my children's destiny, not them. They'll mess it up. I don't trust them. But dig a little deeper and the truth is, I don't trust God. My need to control demonstrates my lack of faith in God to watch over, guide, love, teach and help my children.

    The truth is that all those mistakes I made growing into an adult have shaped who I am today. In my younger years I was ashamed and thought people would judge me if they only knew. I now realize it was my journey. It shaped me and God has redeemed every single bad choice I have made and am still making.

    Our children also have a journey to make. What they do on that journey is not about us or about whether we are good parents; it's about them and their journey to adulthood and beyond. It's about them becoming the people that God wants them to be. It's about how God will take every single one of their bad choices and use them to shape, refine and grow them.

    I didn't hear much from my son when he went to that camp for the Leaders in Training program in July. But I texted him every once in a while just to say “I love you” and “I miss you.” I'm not sure if it was with a cheeky grin, but he texted me back one day with “Love you Mommy.” He's never called me that before! Not only did I learn to wait a while before bugging him again, but I also learned to let go just a little bit more.

    “Point your kids in the right direction—when they're old they won't be lost” (Proverbs 22:6 The Message).

    Major Kathie Chiu is the executive director of Victoria's Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre.

    Photo: © iStockphoto.com/izusek

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