As rough as those teenage years are, nothing quite prepares us for the major event that occurs when they finish high school: leaving home.
Whether it's spending a year learning in Israel or going off to college, after all the struggling and frustrations who would have imagined their leaving would be so traumatic? Despite all we've been through, we're devastated.
Rabbi E.E. Dessler taught that giving leads to loving. Who gives more than parents? Who loves more? "How much do I love you?" I ask my youngest son. "So much that you can't take it!" he proudly replies. And I know it's not completely reciprocal -- yet. Children don't give as much at this stage in their lives, despite their constant kvetching about all their household responsibilities! They don't love as much. And, as much as they love their life at home, they can't wait to leave.
In fact, all their teenage years are preparation for this moment. Their time with their friends seems to expand and deepen as they begin their emotional and physical withdrawal. But don't be fooled. They still want to know that we are waiting at home. Don't push them out the door too soon.
Although it may be a bittersweet phase for us, and at times our hearts may be breaking, we know it's a positive development in their lives. There comes a time in every teen's life where they can no longer grow effectively in their home environment, when it's time to spread their wings and fly.
In order to accomplish our goals of raising successful adults, they need to go. They need to learn that they can make it on their own - whether it's figuring out directions, doing their laundry or more serious choices about classes and schools, and eventually finding their spouses. Leaving the warm cocoon of home forces our children to grow up and take responsibility. Staying at home may delay that progression. . There is comfort in recognizing that this is an important milestone for your adolescent sons and daughters. It is a crucial step towards an independent adult life. It's a true test of bitachon, of trust in the Almighty. They are going to make mistakes and we will not be able to protect them. They are going to choose poorly, although hopefully not too often.
And, in some ways, a test of our trust in our children, and the values we have taught them in our homes.over the years.
Even though their future was never really in our hands, we are now confronted with that reality in all its starkness. Yes, the Almighty does run the world.
And not only is it good and right for them. It's good and right for the whole family. Everyone learns and grows in different ways from the experience. Although some siblings look forward to more space, perhaps a whole room to themselves most focus on the particular contributions that sister or brother has made to the home and what they will now miss.
The whole family also needs the realignment. Teenagers dominate the household, their moods dictate the atmosphere. It is a good when they leave and allow their siblings to move up the ladder. Every child needs his/her day in the sun.
So we need to deal with the trauma. It certainly is sobering. "Wasn't I just a teenager?" we ask ourselves. "How well I remember my own high school graduation..." Yes we realize we're getting older, but when we sense that hope and promise, that excitement in the open future that lies ahead, glistening in our teenager's bright eyes and shining face, it becomes a time for our own introspection. We wonder if we have let our own hopes and dreams die.
Our role as parents begins to change. Whatever we were going to teach them has already been taught. The opportunity for fine-tuning is over; their basic characters are built. But it's not yet time to pull out the E-Z boy chair. Our (almost adult) children still need us, and not just to pay their bills (although that is a compelling need). They still need our emotional support, our unconditional love and our respect.
As our adolescents teeter on the cusp of adulthood, we have to be there when they come looking. They are making their own choices and, hardest of all, we must respect them and their decision-making process, even if their choices are different than we desire.
They need our respect more than we realize. They need our patience, our caring and our wisdom. We are their home and their foundation. They need to know that the fans back home are cheering them on. They need us to treat them like adults yet be sensitive to the times when they want a little babying (doesn't everyone want to go home to mom when they feel sick?). They need the security of knowing we're available when needed.
Don't push. Give advice only when asked (sounds like the antithesis of parenting!). Their interest in our input will decrease proportionately with our insistence on it. It's ironic. All the parenting skill sets we spent years learning and perfecting (all those books we read and all those lectures we attended!) now must be discarded in favor of a new, subtler model.
It's a tremendous adjustment. It's the point at which parenting truly is a chesed shel emes, giving with no expectations of return.
And it's one of the biggest gifts we can ever give our children: our confidence in their ability to make adult choices, and our unconditional love and support.
© 2005 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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