I recently hit a new milestone in my parenting journey — I dropped my teen daughter off for her first post-secondary experience. She is participating in a veterinary program in PEI. For me, it felt particularly poignant as her father (and not I) will be the one to travelling to Nova Scotia later this month to drop her off to begin her first-year studies at university. This is a pretty big deal, because not only will she be moving out for the first time, we will be all the way at the other end of the country in B.C.
I've been reflecting on what it means as a parent to "let go." It's excruciatingly painful but also completely necessary, and ultimately it is a joyful moment in our lives. It's been a long process to get my daughter to this moment. Every sleepover, school trip and extracurricular competition has prepared her for this stage in her life. Every challenging experience has built up a readiness and a confidence to do more. Those experiences build upon one another and, before you know it, you are parenting a young adult prepared — as much or as well as one can be — to face the challenges of adult life.
I've tried not to overprotect my children, but I've definitely not always been successful. But I keep trying. And I counsel the families I see in clinical practice to do the same. When a parent is overprotective, they are sending an implicit message to their child that they doubt the child's capacity to succeed and adapt to challenging situations without parental intervention.
Success is the ability to capably adapt.
The message that's sent is one of doubt: "I doubt you can do this, and so I need to protect you. You are not safe and capable without me."
Thriving in life requires the ability to constantly adapt to address the challenges before us. Success is the ability to capably adapt. Adaptational failure leads to young people being stuck at a certain developmental level. Young people need to practice and practice the skills required for adaptational success. Practicing these skills leads to critically thinking, higher level problem-solving and independence. Ultimately, our goal as parents should be raising children who become adults with these abilities. I remind myself of that when I catch myself trying to intervene in my children's challenges.
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We live in rapidly changing times where our children, and the adults they become, will face harrowing experiences — like social media pressures, online bullying and climate change — that many of our generation did not encounter when we were growing up. In the face of such difficulty, many parents may feel the need to reign their kids in closer and protect them even more passionately. My advice is to lean into this parental anxiety. Do not succumb to overprotectionism. Instead, strive to raise strong, resilient kids who can readily adapt to this hectic new world of ours.
So now as I reflect about this parental milestone, I realize that every time I "let go" and leaned into my own parental anxiety, I was preparing myself just as much as I was preparing my daughter for this new stage in our lives. One thing is certain, I am glad our rapidly changing world has brought Skype with it!
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