Are you raising children or future adults? This is a question my colleague John frequently asked me while my three children were growing up. It is a question that even now, with my three children out of the house, I consider. It is also one of the most frequently asked questions when I am leading courses. Wanting to be a ‘good parent’ is a goal for many parents. So this question is important to ask and can shift your perspective on what, and how, you are doing as you raise your children. Your home is the training ground and those small people running around are adults in training. Since we don’t get much feedback on how we are doing until those little people grow up, we must consider what we are doing today in order to get a future adult.
When you shift to raising adults, you begin thinking about the types of behavior you want to see in the adult version of your child. This doesn’t mean that you don’t understand the behavior that is appropriate for a child’s age. But it expands out with a broader perspective. My husband, a veterinarian, frequently says to people who have new puppies – when you are training the puppy, don’t encourage behavior that you don’t want to see in the adult dog. I believe that the same principal applies to raising children. Whatever you allow as them to say and do as children says to them that the behavior is OK. Sometimes things that appear cute as children are not so cute from an adult. We have all seen the 30-year old yelling like a 4-year old when they didn’t get what they wanted or thought they deserved.
You also must do a reality check with yourself. Are you preparing your children to live, as adults, in their world? Or, are you teaching them to live in the world that you grew up in? My childhood was a rural, western life without cell phones or internet where I rode a school bus 100 miles/day. We had limited class offerings and a 4.0 GPA was the best you could do. This was very different my children’s world of constant connectivity, negative comments from school administrators if you didn’t take Advanced Placement classes, and riding the bus was only for the ‘poor kids’. While I didn’t travel outside of the United States until I was 35 years old, my daughter spent a summer in the United Kingdom during college. I can’t prepare my children for rural Wyoming because the world is bigger and more accessible to my kids than it was to me. Their world is different. They need to be prepared for a highly connected, highly visual, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world where not everyone looks, sounds, thinks, or has grown up like they have. For them to successfully work in their world, they must be taught that they don’t have to be afraid of what is different, just because it is different.
Lastly, I don’t know a parent that doesn’t wrestle with the idea of how much responsibility to take with their children. Even as an empty nester, I ask myself – am I doing too much or too little for them? Taking too little can be like sending your child out on the ice flow to just ‘deal with it’. Taking too much and you become a Blackhawk Helicopter parent constantly hovering and on alert for any possible issue. None of us want to see our children in pain – we may want to reduce the pain or take it away completely. However, that is usually our discomfort with their situation. Their pain may be due to a mistake or a struggle to deal with a situation. If you swoop in and take away the pain and struggle, you may also be preventing them from learning how to cope with a mistake or struggle, effectively crippling them. Making mistakes or struggling is something you want your children to do, and learn about, while they are with you. You can coach and teach them the skills they will need to overcome bigger mistakes and work through bigger struggles later in life. It also supports them in seeing that they are competent, capable human beings who can be independent and solve their own problems.
When you raise adults vs. children, you teach how them how to believe in themselves and how to self-advocate. When you raise adults vs. children, they show independence behaviors because they know that they can ‘do it’. When you raise adults vs. children, you see them taking the lead in their lives and asking for the help that works for them. When parents are asked, ‘what type of people do you want your children to grow up to be?’, frequently the answers include words like: loving, independent, respectful, responsible, successful, etc. These are the characteristics to encourage and teach. Margaret Mead said, “The solution to adult problems tomorrow depends on large measure upon how our children grow up today.” We aren’t just raising children. We are raising adults – and the future.