In the beginning are the parents...and they do it all. Mom literally breathes, nourishes, and filters blood for a helpless, prenatal person within the safe haven of her own body. Once the child is out and about, Mom and Dad continue to think for him; to determine when he is hot or cold, hungry or tired. They thoughtfully research the best car seats, diaper brands, and organic baby foods--choosing his playmates and managing his every waking, and sleeping, moment.
Fast forward eighteen years to see an adult who is expected to responsibly drive himself hither and yon, clothe and feed his own person, and positioned to make vital decisions that will direct the course of his life--to find a spouse, choose a career, and embrace for himself an identity that reflects what he believes and values. So much has transpired in less than two decades with the parents’ roles morphing as dramatically as the child’s growth! To their dismay, many discover that what constitutes good parenting of a newborn is not healthy parenting of a senior in high school. Ultimately, and ideally, what must happen during these years, and certainly from here on out, is the transfer of power and dependence. How graciously parents are able to navigate this exchange will set the tone for all future interactions and, hopefully, a lifelong, intergenerational friendship.
Holding On and Letting Go
The process of letting go is different for every family and even for every child within a family. Some children demand the reins prematurely, yanking them from startled parents who are left to nurse rope-burned hands. Still others are content to continue in the nest of dependency and need coaxing and coaching to stretch and flex their untried wings. Regardless of where you are at in this transfer with your teen, whether just beginning junior high or about to close the high school chapter, it is not too early (or too late) to begin the process of letting go. Be open about your intentions. Discuss the responsibilities that will accompany each stage of newfound independence. Set aside time on your calendar for periodic meetings with your student--maybe monthly breakfast dates, or a weekly trip to a coffee shop. There are many resources out there to get you started or provide direction. Check out http://stickyfaith.org/ for more ideas.
Building Rites of Passage
Adolescence provides some rituals for marking important rites of passage. Most churches commemorate the completion of confirmation, baptism, or catechism classes. Many 16 year-olds realize the adult responsibility awarded to them when they receive their driver’s license or get their first real job. But high school graduation is, without question, the main event heralding official adulthood as students prepare to leave home and the only life they have ever known. Some families get really creative at marking this milestone with creative customs of their own design.
Consider assembling a scrapbook for your child, celebrating not only physical growth but their spiritual development as well. Ask for contributions from key adults in your student’s life--aunts, uncles, teachers, coaches, and family friends. Include handwritten Advice to the Grad, or ask participants to expound on one specific characteristic they have seen in your child. Add your own notes including meaningful verses and special memories. I know families who plan a special dinner out with just their student where they might present a ring or other significant article of jewelry. Still others take their son or daughter on a trip to a location none of them have visited before, symbolizing this new phase of life which is also an uncharted adventure. You might want to host a meal that includes adults who have impacted your child spiritually. Set aside time after dinner to pray together and speak a blessing over your graduate. In all the pomp and circumstance, the physical prep of an elaborate grad party, or the details of a university launch, don’t lose sight of the spiritual and emotional significance of what is about to transpire.