Ready, … Set, … WAIT !
David L. Nutter, MA, BCC, AMFT – Marriage & Family Therapist
Face it. Parents have been literally barraged, at times, raising their children. Moms jump into a crossfire of activities like soldiers into a foxhole. They coordinate dance lessons, gymnastics, and sports camps. They remind/pester about instrument lessons. They navigate traffic to soccer, baseball, tennis, football, cheer, rugby and who knows where else? Moms rival 5-star hotel concierges and still manage to personally feed their family. They hope for times when Dad might pinch-hit so they could (maybe) fit in something as indulgent as a pedicure or just grocery shop alone. I’ve seen you, staring aimlessly into the refrigerated section of stacked eggs. If they aren’t in cages is it just mayhem collecting eggs? Did you leave clean clothes in the washing machine too long? Is there another repeat-load in your future?
Parents endure years of viewing television commercials which can guilt them with a sad song or the look of a “really” happy family. Financial sponsors hammer popular obligations to save and “invest” in their children’s college tuition, the perfect wedding and, if possible, that little extra to plop down on a starter home. After all, how will kids afford to buy a home on their own these days? Conditioning for everyone starts very early. Pre-schools, little leagues, cell phones, prom gowns, tuxedos, cars, auto insurance, class trips, study abroad, missions – they’re are all part of parenting – or is it that really true?
Common sense tells us that change and separation is difficult, if we look from the perspective of being left behind. One of my most favorite mentors, Dr. Elliott D. Landau, asked me my philosophy on parenting. I responded that I felt parenting was raising adults, not children. It was the hug I treasured most from that exchange but the encouragement he added has stuck with me for over these past three decades. He said: “Enjoy them not needing you but taking you with them, wherever they go.”
Research by Reuben Hill in the late 1940’s and 1950’s is still relevant today about families and change they can experience such as leaving home for military or church service, humanitarian efforts, college, study abroad or simply wanderlust. Hill created a famous relational theory known as the ABC-X model. It asserts that there are relationships between A) The Stressor Event; B) Resources the family brings on that stressor event; C) the Meaning the family assigns to the stressor and X) the Crisis – which is produced by these interactions. Some families or certain family members see a son or daughter leaving as a crisis. It is an upset to the comfortable status quo and their departure is seen as dreadful, unpleasant and the end of an era. Other families see this as an adventure, a new learning experience, opportunities for growth and change and adaptability. The stressor of leaving for college or other destinations is something I assist families with, taking inventory of the resources they have and discussing the meaning they assign to this event. Often the crisis becomes a catalyst for individual and family growth.
Whether parents decide to assist their child on their journey by paying all or some of their expenses or assist them by supporting their independence and work ethic, children are individuals. They find their way with encouragement, love and interaction. Whether parents embrace the change with excitement and support or with fear and trepidation is totally up to them. You all get to experience this change by evolving, letting go and then going on your own journey of self-discovery, independence and finding your meaning as an individual. Your connection will be different. But I believe they will take you with them, wherever they go.