Shifting Your Parenting Goals

My blogging journey started when we learned Kristen was pregnant with Megan.

21 years ago, using a Gateway laptop, and a now long-out-dated version of Microsoft Word, I wrote daily entries into a documents pouring out my hopes and dreams for my unborn child.

Becoming a parent is a common reason people start writing. I think about Solomon, King of Israel, sitting down to write out Proverbs… while infinitely smarter and inspired by the Holy Spirit… he was essentially doing what I was doing on that old laptop: Writing out his hopes and dreams for the generations to follow while also trying to explain how the in the world things turned out the way they did.

Creating Eden

As I think about those early writings, me sorting out what it meant to be a dad, to lay out what I was hoping and dreaming for my kids… it’s really all about Kristen and I. It was about what we wanted for our kids.

When each of our children were babies I remember holding them, staring at them, staring into their eyes, and daydreaming about who they might become.

Parenting a baby and even through early childhood it’s ultimately about you, as the parent, pouring your expectations, aspirations, bathed in your culture, dipped in your religion, your personal circumstances, your hopes, your dreams… onto them. It is nature and nurture all mixed up into one.

And as parents we are pleased when they parrot back our values or find joy in the things you would hope they find joy in whether that be soccer or church or Boy Scouts or playing the piano or smiling in cute videos.

Early in your parenting journey you are shaping them. This is a sacred role. For good or bad everything we’re doing, both what we’re really doing and what they perceive we are doing, is shaping them.

I like to think of our job as parents as creating the fertile soil for their life to grow. But just like in the garden… there’s a difference between what you think you’re doing and what’s actually happening. Your kids aren’t created in your lab, there are other inputs of course. So along the way they pick up a version of what you want with influences you may or may not want.

But ultimately parenting is a lot like the garden. You reap what you sow.

Looking back, we’ve sheltered our kids when they were young in some ways. We protected them from knowing everything. We tried to foster in them a desire to learn and an appetite to try new things. (Except vegetables.) But, to keep the garden analogy going, it’s our garden… we decided what to fertilize, what to water, what weeds to pull, etc.

Last week, a terrible school shooting killed 19 kids and 2 teachers in Texas. Did Jackson know about it? Yes, of course. Did we watch hours of television about it or talk about it at length? No. Why? Because we didn’t need to dwell on it. He didn’t need us to dwell on it.

We’ve always been OK with sheltering our kids.

At the same time our kids have been exposed to other stuff people their age might not have been exposed to. They’ve had the privilege to travel with us, to get to know people from other countries and cultures, to see with their own eyes, ears, noses, and tongues stuff that other kids would never see. And each of them spent their formative years in a school environment where they were the minority. They grew up with kids from all over the world… there was intentionality in that, too.

That’s how we expressed our hopes and desires onto them. For better or worse that’s the environment that they grew up with. It forms their foundation and bedrock.

The Hardest Shift in Your Parenting

At the same time we recognize that our role as parents needs to adapt to new realities.

With our youngest rounding the corner from late childhood to early adolescence we need to shift gears with our parenting.

Ultimately, good parenting adolescents isn’t about shaping a child into what you want them to be. It’s about helping them discover who they want to be.

The hardest transition as a parent is from childhood-to-adolescence. Carl Jung described adolescence as a time of storm and turbulence. I think that this is as true for parents as it is for adolescents. Just when you think you understand how to parent, you get 8-10-12 years into it and start to feel like you’ve finally found your groove… and along comes adolescence.

You have to give up control. I’d say the biggest challenge of parenting adolescence is giving up control.

From a gardening perspective, you lose control of the inputs on your garden. Friends, media, video games, cultural shifts, technology, school, books— THOSE DANG BOOKS, all work with the biological onset of puberty. And as a parent, the stuff that used to work don’t work anymore.

Many parents mistake adolescence for disobedience. They see their influence declining, their controls lessening, and their reaction is to tighten the grip on the controls. They take away access to friends or media or technology as a form of punishment… which never, ever, ever works.

I always remind parents about Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. This timeless play, always read in school in 9th grade, remains timeless because of the relationship between the parents in the story and the teenagers. Teenage love makes them blind, drunk, and stupid to their culture. Their parents take away their cell phones and ground them from their friends… so what do Romeo & Juliet do? They do whatever they want! Why? Because their parents can no longer control them.

What was true in Shakespeare’s day of adolescence is true today.

Don’t fail like Romeo & Juliet’s parents failed them.

Shift gears. Stop trying to shape your adolescent children’s lives into your aspirations for them. Instead, help them discover their own aspirations for themselves.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

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