It was the first day of letting go.
And I’ve been letting go ever since. This past year alone, we had three big letting go experiences: dropping our firstborn off in Mexico as a full time missionary, taking our third child to college for the first time, and experiencing our first wedding as we released our oldest son to his beautiful bride.
Each letting go experience reminds me that raising and releasing kids is both breathtaking and heartbreaking all at the same time.
This process has a name–fledge: to develop wing feathers large enough for flight, or to provide an arrow with feathers. And it’s the topic and title of my upcoming book, “Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind” (preorders available soon, so stay tuned!)
Lots of you are fledging right now–sending kids to middle school, high school, college, or beyond. Every stage is challenging as you balance holding on while also letting go. As an a new school year starts, here are 10 principles to consider as you nudge your fledglings.
5 Principles for Letting Go
1.Let go of academic control. As former school counselor and teacher, I need you to know your kids are responsible for their schoolwork and learning. They are responsible for their success, or lack of motivation. They are equipped with teachers, resources, and your support. They have the capacity to learn and it’s not dependent upon the teacher or you. While there are exceptions to this broad, general statement, parents need to step back and let kids grow, struggle, and succeed in school. (It a child is failing academically, there are usually bigger issues than academics.)
2. Let go at developmental stages. Your fifth grader doesn’t need you hovering like you did in second grade. That new driver? She’ll survive, just like you did. You don’t need to check up on her. And don’t even think to call your college student to wake him up or to see if he made it to his class. Release control when your child is capable to manage tasks and responsibilities. Letting go of certain things at the appropriate stage is your job so your child can adult well. (If you’re still tying their shoes in third grade, there’s a problem).
3. Let go of unimportant battles. Certain areas or not worth battling your child over at any stage. Your child wasn’t created to do things your way, and there will be bigger battles to fight (believe me).
- Homework done a certain way? (Not worth the fight).
- Being in band rather than football? (No).
- Pink hair? (No).
- A’s instead of B’s? B’s instead of C’s? (No).
- A messy room (Sorry, not worth it).
You get the picture. Too often parents fight over what’s not important. Your kids tune out because you’re nagging, being critical, and making them feel like they can’t measure up. When everything’s a battle, your kids will fight you on the big stuff because it’s the way they communicate with you. Let go of the little stuff. Save your time, energy, and relationship with your child for the big ticket items like their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health and safety.
4. Let go of expectations. Release your expectations for each child so you can focus on who they are as individuals at whatever stage they are in. Don’t compare them to their sister, brother, or you. Don’t expect them to be the way you were. They’re not a mini-you. When you let go of expectations, you begin to see them as God created them to be.
5. Let go of peer pressure. A new school year can bring as much peer pressure for parents as kids. This is crazy! Our kids need us to be strong so they can be strong. Don’t parent your kids based on what other parents are doing. Why? Because those parents don’t care about your kid. (They really don’t. Sorry!) They care about their own kid and his or her success (and their own). No one is looking out for the best interest of your children other than you (and perhaps a few, very few, close friends, mentors, or teachers).
Every school year brings another fad. Every generation has the moral issue that gets compromised. Don’t alter your convictions just because your friends or the parents of your child’s friends allow something you don’t feel comfortable with. Let go of peer pressure. You’re the adult. Act like one. Your kids are counting on it.
5 Principles for Holding On
1. Hold on to your moral non-negotiables. What are the values or biblical principles that are most important for your family? Have you thought about them? If not, do so because compromising morality sneaks up on you when you’re least expecting it. Those values also look different as your child grows. There are certain non-negotiable principles I’m committed to as a parent until each of my children graduate. Why? Because kids do harmful things which can alter their character or life. They still look to us for guidance even though they act all big and adultish. These issues are different from family to family. The important principle is to know what your non-negotiables are and hold on to them until it’s time to fully let go.
2. Invest in your relationship with your child. Fractured relationships happen because issues or performance become more important than your relationship with your child (see #3 above). Our kids pick up unwritten rules and perceptions based on daily interactions. If most of the conversations with your teen include how they’re not measuring up, they get the feeling their relationship with you is based on what they do, not who they are. It’s respect for you and your relationship that will cause them to respect your guidelines. Rules without relationship results in rebellion.
3. Hold on to your role as protector and guide. The balance between letting go and holding on is figuring out what’s developmentally appropriate and what areas kids still need guidance. In adolescence, the emotional, impulsive part of the brain is more active than the logical side (hello middle school!). While it’s important to let kids make decisions on their own, don’t let go of protecting by giving premature freedoms without boundaries. Just because your teen looks and talks like an adults and wants adult privileges, it doesn’t mean their brain is ready for adult decisions. Technology and the new cyber-social climate is one area where your kids still need you.
4. Hold on to the big picture. Too often parents look at where their kids are and forget the goal of releasing them. You want take care of them while building those strong wing feathers that are ready to fly. You’re parenting kids for a lifetime. They won’t always be impulsive and quirky and loud their whole life. They’re kids! Let them be kids. Let them have fun. But also let them be responsible and learn from their mistakes. Parent them for a lifetime, not just for this school year.
5. Hold on to your sanity. You can lose perspective, identity, and all high functioning ability raising kids. As each child gets older and eventually leaves your nest, they take your mental, emotional, and physical energy with you. Midlife is where you find yourself when kids become adults (mathematically, it’s fact). You will be more tired, both mentally and physically. You’ll need a sense of humor to laugh at yourself, your kids, and life circumstances that can take you under if you don’t protect your own mind, heart, and body. Self-care while caring for your kids is a must.
Preparing your kids to fledge starts at birth but intensifies as they approach graduation. Nothing quite prepared me for the emotional whiplash that hits you in the face with each child’s experience. I’m honored to encourage parents with the ins and outs of this crazy experience with the release of Fledge in March 2018. Stay tuned! And in the mean time–hold on while graciously letting go as this new school year starts!