We thought you wanted us to “let go”

She says:        

Our son, James, is a young adult in college. He knows what he wants to do in life, but he’s just not sure how to get there.

When is it time for parents to be involved in their kids' lives? And when is it time to let go?
When is it time for parents to be involved in their kids’ lives? And when is it time to let go?

When we have offered advice, he usually shuts down and reminds us how old he is and that he can make decisions for himself… that is, until he doesn’t want to anymore. Recently, James told me he wished we didn’t throw quite as much decision-making on him as we do. At first, I wasn’t sure what to say. I mean, how’s a parent to know when to help their kid and when to back off – especially when the kid wants varying amounts of help?

At the start of the last school semester, I gave our other son, Grant, a “pep talk” about starting off with good study and sleep habits. I reminded him that keeping up with his schoolwork will avoid the last minute crunch he’d endured last semester. Although my talk only lasted five minutes, it was clearly 4 minutes and 30 seconds too long. I could see him glazing over.

“Mom, I know all of this. You don’t have to tell me,” he said. I said nothing but wanted to say “It doesn’t matter if you know it if you don’t DO it!” Both boys need our guidance, but they only want it when they want it. Same goes with our daughters. Actually, same goes for Thomas but that’s another blog post…

So I’m left never knowing whether my advice will be welcomed or shut down. Do I just wait until I’m asked to help them? What if I see a big mistake ahead? What if I don’t head it off with some well-intended guidance? Whether they are 2-years-old swatting your hand away when you want to help them cross the street or 20-years-old needing some life-advice, it’s tough being the parent just trying to do the right thing.

He says:

I understand Courtney’s frustrations and have certainly been the one being told the equivalent of “come here/go away” by our kids. But I think this is pretty normal. I remember being a child and teenager who sometimes wanted the assistance and support of my parents and sometimes wanted them to just leave me the heck alone. I think it’s just symbolic of the transitional stages that are part of childhood – they are constantly caught between needing us and pushing us away. If they never pushed us away and only wanted our help and RELIED on our help too much, that would mean they weren’t developing into young adults, capable of making their own decision.

That leaves us still not knowing when to butt in and when to back off. I think all we can do is what we have been doing all along – let the kids know we’re here for them, whenever they need us. Sometimes, we’ll step in when we see a potential big problem coming down the pike. And sometimes, we’ll need to just bite our tongues, cross our fingers behind our backs and hope, hope, hope, it’s all going to turn out all right.

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