I see parenting as having four phases in guiding children to becoming succesful adults. I call phase one, THE FOUNDATION, phase two, EXPLORATION, phase three, REBELLION AND SEPARATION, and phase four, LETTING GO. The last phase is the time parenting should “expire” and be replaced with friendship. Each phase is approximately seven years beginning at birth.
Phase one is the foundation a child needs to stand on for a lifetime. Babies’ only awareness, in the beginning, are the five senses they are born with, hearing, sight, taste, smell, and feel. I believe when these five senses are favorably met by the infant-parent exchange a sense of trust begins to develop. The child is bombarded with a vast number of learnings that the parent can only stand back and watch and be cheerleaders, like coaxing them to turn over, crawl, walk and begin trying to communicate with sounds that end up turning into words. Later during this phase parents have opportunities to introduce social adventures, like play dates, taking them on adventures, and outings, and can introduce simple games and activities that help kids gain confidence in themselves. Personalities have been developed by the end of this phase. Consistency is needed here and in All future phases. At the end of Phase One parents have put in place a road map that will impact their child’s future.
In phase two parents get to see a hint of their children spreading their wings. Parents get some support in parenting, because teachers outside the home are added to the mix. Entering the education system adds many new experiences. Parents need to be onboard and involved with what the kids are taught in their schools. Children can’t distinguish between quality education and nonsense at this age, so parents need to be VERY involved with the school they select for their child. This phase is also a time sports, music lessons, and other creative activities come into play in the childs lives, another step towards independence for the child. Again the parent gets to be cheerleaders. Phase two plants the seeds for understanding the importance of responsibility, values, respecting self and others, consequences, and more. They are introduced to societies’ “safe keepers”. Here parents can explain the jobs of firemen, policemen and even why an ambulance screams bye with sirens blaring. During this phase children love to learn and ask lots of questions about what they are seeing outside their home base. They are ripe for learning so explain, explain, explain. Being plugged into children’s lives by listening to things that seem like nothing at all can be powerful glue that bonds and builds trust, so that when something important comes along the child naturally turns to the parent and not someone who might not be trust worthy.
In my model phase three happens between ages fourteen and twenty-one. Here is where rebellion and separation emerges. Parents get a birdseye view of what their kids have learned and who they are becoming. They get to see the lessons they have tried to teach their kids and see what has made the grade. This segment can be bumpy, but is necessary. I think rebellion is triggered by the child’s review of their experiences, and begin placing values on what they have learned. Some of the conclusions they come up with are not always accurate, as their brains won’t be fully developed until they reach the age of 25. They sometimes can’t see around the corner, so to speak. This is also a time when they probably think they know it all, and this presents a perfect time for healthy debate between parent and child for guidance. Formal education is coming to an end during this phase and adulthood is just around the corner. Also be reminded that children need understanding and forgiveness the most when they least deserve it, a great reminder for this period.
The last, and forth phase is when the process changes dramatically, and the need for parenting expires. This period is most liberating for the kids and sometimes the hardest phase for parents. This is a time to drop the role of parenting, and go in a different direction, to become friends. This is a time to stop offering guidance and direction unless asked. Parents need to have faith that they have done their best as parents. Succesful parents have raised children who have developed enough confidence to jump out of the nest and fly away into uncharted waters, without fear. When a parent keeps wanting to make decisions for their kids, and interfere, they are saying that they think they did a lousy job at parenting, and are trying to get a “Redo”. If any parent resists “letting go” by saying, “I want to protect them from making mistakes” remember that they themselves probably made mistakes at this time in their lives, and survived. Let these young adults make mistakes. They will survive as well. Some of the greatest lessons come from stumbling. There is nothing more profound than making a mistake and figuring it out, and kids deserve this valuable experience. Don’t cheat them!
One place I hope parents never go is to try to piggyback on their kids. Wanting to live through your children’s accomplishments and lives is both selfish on the parents part and burdensome to their children. And wanting them to be just like them in beliefs and goals is not realistic for either. They need to feel free to be authentic.
Young adults have a responsibility in Phase Four to take an active part in their development. I think this is a time to put all beliefs and values learned over their life on the table, so to speak, and reevaluate them. Many beliefs were learned when there were no filters in place, that experience teaches. Another point that fits here is that sometime kids pick up ideas that are false, or they get programmed with thoughts or beliefs that can cause roadblocks in their future. I call this baggage. These metaphorical bags need to be emptied and repacked as many times as necessary until the parcel supports the young adult’s life goals. This might be a great place for conservations to materialize between parent and young adults. This could be a huge opportunity to reinforce the transition from parenting to friendship that could be rewarding for both.
Each parent needs to remember that they only can live one life, and that is their own. No perfect parent exists. Hopefully they have taught their kids many tools for success. Kids don’t always absorb all of the lessons they are offered, but the seeds have been sowed and are there for future learning and growth. Hopefully parents are succesful in this fourth phase and can be a valuable part of their adult children’s lives in positive and supportive ways. Developing friendships with adult children is packed full of magnificent rewards.