Shifting parenting goals

Prem and Shalina are very devoted parents. They shower love and affection on their son Ranjit. They never missed his PTM’s, his kabaddi matches or his guitar performances. They are always available when he wants to talk and they guide him with every decision he takes. They let him know ever so often that he is the centre of their world. They sound like perfect parents.

The trouble is, that Ranjit is now 27 years old, a working professional and married to the love of his life. His parent’s constant attention and devotion is becoming an interference and embarrassment, but he doesn’t know how to tell them without hurting them. This has caused a strain in the relationship.

Prem and Shalina are committing a common parenting mistake. They have failed to shift gears with the passing of time. What is perfect parenting when a child is young is rarely appropriate as he grows older. The changing styles are approximately as follows; From birth to around 7 years, the parents are mostly in control as the child is totally dependent on them for basic needs, food shelter, clothing and safety. When the parental control is within the context of a relationship of love, affection, affirmation and acceptance the child develops a healthy respect for authority and feels secure.

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From age 8-16 the parents increasingly coach the child to become more independent in age appropriate ways. By the time the child becomes a late teen he should have learnt how to care for his basic needs fairly independently. The goal of parenting after all is to nurture our children so that they become mature and independent. If a late teen does not know for example; how to commute on his own, make simple purchases, fix a simple meal when hungry and manage his time and homework on his own, it’s likely that the parents have not shifted gears, and are doing too much for him.

As the teen grows older from ages 16 to 21 ideally he should be making more and more life decisions on his own with the parent playing more of a counselling and guiding role. If the parents have coached the child effectively when he was younger by letting him make choices, take small risks and take responsibility for his behaviour, then the teen moves into the adult stage with ease. A young adult needs to make major life decisions about education, career, marriage, life goals, values, philosophies etc.

Parents need to draw back at this stage and give the young adult freedom to make his own decisions. The perimeters of freedom must be extended in sequential steps from little to much, as the children move from adolescence to adulthood. Unfortunately, most parents do the reverse. They tend to be permissive when the child is little and let him do as he pleases, without spending the time and effort it takes to mould, train and coach him. Then when the child grows to be a teen or young adult they try to control him. Quite obviously the emerging adult rebels.

Many parents fail to let the relationship mature as their children become adults, but continue to treat the young people as if they were children. This can lead to serious conflicts and can actually promote immature behaviour. One of the most important goals of parenting is to help our children separate from us. The measure of a good parent is what we are willing not to do for our adult child. It’s natural for parents to want to hold on, protect, control, advise, direct. It’s natural to want to be needed. It’s the other way that is not natural. Separating our children’s hopes from ours, separating their disappointments from ours. Permitting them in their struggle. Making ourselves dispensable. Letting go! That a parent can do it at all is a miracle. And yet one can say that giving an adult child autonomy is actually a way of giving love. Not letting them grow up is like not letting them live.

Most of us are appalled, shocked and horrified when we read about ‘honour killings’ in our country. Parents killing their own children for not listening to the parents dictates of whom they should love and whom they should marry. Yet, when we as parents do not allow our adult children to think for themselves, to feel for themselves, to hope for themselves, and make their own life decisions we are really no different.

Stella says, “I never wanted to be an engineer. My parents physically forced me to take up engineering.” Unfortunately, her story is all too common. So many young people have been bullied, coerced, forced or manipulated into taking up a career that they are not in the least bit interested in. Often parents do this to live their own unfulfilled dreams and literally ‘use’ their children to climb up the social ladder. Children are not possessions or objects for parents to use in whatever way they wish.

Confident parents are loving and supportive in letting their children take steps towards maturity. The goal of course is that these children will become self-assured, independent and right thinking adults. When this happens an adult to adult relationship develops where each person is seen as a separate and valued individual. Most often such parents and adult children eventually become really good friends. Take Asha for eg who explains her closeness to her mom this way, “I think it’s because Mom has allowed me to grow up. She doesn’t treat me like a child. She doesn’t try to tell me what to do. Because of that I respect her ideas. In fact, I often ask her advice. I don’t think I would do that if she tried to control me.”

Parents will always influence their children no matter what their age is. The key is to be intentional in making that influence caring, positive and life energising so that you leave a legacy your children will cherish.

If you want to talk to a professional and explore your parenting challenges, or if you just want to understand parenthood, do contact us at TalkItOver for help.

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About Patricia D'Souza

Patricia D’Souza has a Masters in Clinical Psychology with over 25 years of experience in dealing with a wide variety of people issues such as, marital and family relationships, parenting, adoption, mental illness, grief counseling, substance abuse addictions, sexual harassment issues, workaholism and the like. Her therapeutic style is eclectic in nature keeping in mind the Holistic interaction of physical, psychological and spiritual factors involved in healing and wellness. Patricia is also a Certified Wellness Coach (ASA) and able to provide Coaching for various Life Skills issues including Health and Wellness. Her passions include strengthening relationship ties and facilitating people to reach their full potential. She lives with her husband and sons in Bangalore with whom she shares an indefatigable love for travel.