Prem and Shalina are very devoted parents. They shower love and affection on their son Ranjit. He is the apple of their eye. They give him lots of hugs and kisses and words of affirmation to meet his emotional needs. From the time he was very young they researched the best possible ways to give him all kinds of creative,visual, and auditory stimulation to enhance his intellectual capacities. They never missed his PTMs, 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 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.
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 take care of 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 eg; 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 counseling and guiding role. If the parents have coached the child effectively when he was younger by letting him take small risks, giving him choices whenever possible, guiding him in making the best ones, so that he takes responsibility for his behaviour,then the teen moves into this stage with ease. At this stage a young adult needs to make major life decisions what course to study, what career to follow, which person to marry, whether to marry or not, which city to live in, etc.
Parents need to draw back at this stage, probe less and give the young person the freedom to make decisions on their own. The perimeters of freedom must be extended in sequential steps from little to much, as 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 young people as if they were children. This can lead to serious conflicts and can actually promote immature behaviour.
Chetan has a fetish for cars and spends all his earnings on modifying his fancy cars. He always has 2 or more cars at a time and is constantly on the lookout to exchange and upgrade his collection. His wife was indulgent with his ‘weakness’ as she termed it always assuming that he would become sensible about it once they had children. But when the second baby was on the way and the first one was ready to go to school Chetan showed no signs of cutting back on the car expenses and they were sinking further and further into debt. They began to have bitter fights about the situation. What complicates the issue is that Chetan’s parents,who had repeatedly bailed him out of every financial tight spot, continue to do so even after marriage. As a result, he has never really embraced the responsibility to look after his own family. He doesn’t see the need to, when he can always fall back on his parents. He feels his wife is just being unreasonable and ill-tempered about his hobby. To make matters worse the parents only see things from his point of view. They blame the daughter-in-law for causing stress and tension in the family. Instead of leaving the young people to manage their marital relationship on their own, Chetan’s parents are only complicating the matter by interfering and trying to ‘help.’
Parents tend to be permissive when the child is little without moulding and coaching and then try to control when he is a teen resulting in rebellion. The measure of a good parent is what we are willing not to do for our adult child. The goal should be to raise self-assured, independent and right thinking adults.
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, and 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 to deal with their struggle,making ourselves dispensable, letting go! The possibility 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 practically 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. Some parents do this as they live their own unfulfilled dreams through their children. Others are merely trying to live up to the peer pressure around them 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.