Let go and let your child simply be!

An integral part of parenting is having honest conversations with your child.
The internet is agog with the story of Heidi Johnson, alias Estella, a single parent, who wrote a letter to her 13-year-old son Aaron. There is nothing new in this parent-child skirmish – it is played out in every home at some point or the other. Except in Aaron’s case, his mother decided to teach him a lesson on “his choice of wanting to be independent” by threating to charge him for rent, internet and electricity. Estella posted her “offer”, that was contained in a hand-written note to Aaron, on facebook. She was reacting to her son’s statement to her that he was now “earning money” and hence was beyond her “control”. Estella said she was open to this arrangement, and refused to accept being treated like a room-mate and a door-mat, provided, Aaron paid for some of their living expenses. She concluded her note with a beautiful open-to-negotiate sign-off: “If you decide you would rather be MY CHILD again instead of a roommate, we can negotiate terms.”
The letter went viral and has generated over a 100,000 likes and 200,000 shares. There have been people in favor of Estella’s stand and there are those who are both criticizing and critiquing it. The verdict is clearly polarized.
In my opinion, Estella makes a valid point. She says, if you want to behave like an adult, who claims to know everything, then let’s talk business. And I don’t think she’s wrong with this approach. Yes, did Estella have to post her letter on facebook – well, that’s debatable. Even so, she has clarified that she never thought her note, which she had intended only for her family and close friends to see, would ever go viral.
Having honest conversations with your child is an integral part of parenting. It is a responsibility. The way to have these conversations is to be unemotional. And this is where Estella’s communication scores. More often than not, parents communicate asserting emotional authority or with the all-too-predictable I-know-it-all logic. Or they are dismissive of a child’s desire for independence, exploration, adventure or privacy with a how-dare-you attitude. Fundamentally, all parents must recognize that their children are thinking, feeling, independent, individuals. They have a mind of their own. They need not be inclined to live their parents lives – be it by way of values or opinions or outlook or relationships or careers. Yes, it is a parent’s responsibility to inspire and inculcate humane and ethical values in a child. But beyond that the parent cannot expect the child to follow those values to the “T”. Even so, surely, when there is a divergence between what a parent expects and what a child does, the parent has to sit the child down and have a candid chat. But that’s where it must end. If the child still wants to do things her or his way, the parent has to let go. Clinging on to your parental view or fighting the child’s choice is bound to create avoidable friction and often has the potential to turn the child into a rebel.

The only way you – and I – have learnt in Life is from experience. This is the only way your child too will learn. The experiences will vary in context and intensity. But the learnings are often very similar. So, let go and let your child simply be. Be a good parent, have an honest conversation, but beyond that expect nothing. If your child takes your advice, well, pat yourself for a job well done. If your child does not take your advice, and decides to go her or his way, then simply wish your child well. This is the best way to retain your sanity and inner peace. 

Be a responsible parent than a possessive one!

Give your children strong values and teach them how to fly.
As a parent, these are your only two responsibilities. Beyond this, they need nothing from you. The tragedy with most parents is they try to define, decide and dictate the lives their children must live. Resultantly, in their impressionable teens, when they develop a certain independent thinking process and feel empowered through it, children revolt against this repression. Generation after generation, it is the same story.  It is not that they don’t want to respect you or don’t appreciate your perspective. It is just that they want their space, they want to be left alone, to discover for themselves from experience__whether good or bad is immaterial to them__what it means to live Life on their terms.
To be sure, you__and I__lived Life pretty much the same way. Through our teens we have also revolted when denied permission, or done stuff secretly, or we sulked in protest. So, does it make any sense for us to grieve that our children behave with us that way today when we are behaving pretty much the same way as our parents did?  The urge to control the lives of our children comes from our tendency to imagine and from an overzealous sense of overprotection. We don’t want our children to get hurt. And we don’t want them to ‘re-live’ the, often banal, lives we have led or ‘go through’ our kind of, often difficult, Life! But why? Unless a child falls down from a bicycle how will she learn the need to balance herself well? Unless he burns his finger playing with a lit candle, how will your child learn the properties of fire?
Going beyond the bringing up stage, age 0~10, when you have a certain, more intensive role as a parent to provide and protect, recognize that your children are completely different, totally unique individuals than you. Treat growing up kids as kids and they will behave like kids__choosing to be always be childish and irresponsible over being prudent. Treat them like adults and they will behave like adults__intelligently, with maturity and grace. The most efficient way in which you can raise children in their teens through young adulthood is to be their best friends first and parents later. Consider this: you have already parented them; giving them, among all other things, a good set of values and guiding principles. Most children therefore in good, educated families are raised with the right set of values. How is it that sometimes you begin to wonder why these kids find difficulty in “continuing to be good”__at home__in the second decade of their lives? It is not that the children have stopped being good. The truth is we have stopped being good parents. We have become obsessed with their safety, their security, their welfare__so much so that we have stopped trusting them. The biggest casualty is trust. Any teenager__just like you and me in those years__will have a crush on someone or will smoke or will drink or will visit a porn site. It is not that the child has a devious design or desire to revolt at this point that is taking her through these experiences. It is her bewilderment with the world, her urge to discover and ‘sample’ all that’s on offer on the world’s menu card. And unless she considers and ‘samples’ all how will she ever be able to choose? When you react to this natural curiosity unnaturally, with the view that it is an avoidable indulgence, when you express shock, embarrassment, grief and anger, at your child’s “transgression”, you are basically telling your child that you don’t trust her. Nothing can wreck a child’s self-esteem more than knowing that her parents don’t trust her. Once that trust threshold is breached, then the child, with all the raw energy it can summon, wants to take you on. Either openly or covertly. And so the famed generation gap, that we once cursed in our teens, reappears in our lives, in our homes.

The right way to deal with your soon-to-be-young-adult teen is to give him or her wings to fly. Have conversations. Honest conversations. Tell them what you learnt from doing the same stuff that you see them wanting to do. Tell them to go ahead do it themselves. But invite them to share notes. Don’t feel embarrassed talking about sex or about liquor or smoking or about anything ‘adult’ with your children. That’s why being a friend to them is critical__being open, available and inviting__always. Remember if you want your children to turn out well, the best way is to not make the decisions for them: right from what they eat to what they wear to what they want to do in and with their lives. This does not mean you should not express your opinion. By all means do that. Just don’t decide for them. Teach them what’s right and what’s wrong, don’t force them to agree with you on either. Teach them forgiveness, don’t insist they do. Teach them the value of money, but don’t demand that they avoid taking risks. Teach them to love, care and be good, don’t expect that they immediately will. Basically, don’t try to live their lives. Trust them and yourself that they are your children. They will be fine. Keep reminding them that the doors to your home and heart are always open for them, 24×7, so that when they do want to come back to share, to confess, to catch up, to just cuddle up, they are always welcome. Being a responsible parent is a good and important part of intelligent living! Responsible parenting means grooming and leading happy, young adults to take over from you at home!!