I turned 18 in September of my senior year of high school. A few weeks later, in early October, the senior class was scheduled to participate in the completely useless homecoming tradition of the “Senior March” where the entire senior class has a school-sanctioned skip day to take a walk through town and eat a picnic lunch somewhere.
Since the event takes place off campus, a parent permission slip was required. When I brought the half piece of paper home, my mother clearly asked me, “Do you want to go?” To which I, of course, answered yes. “Then sign it,” she said. Simple as that. I was an adult now and could make the decision myself.
I saw no problem with this logic and turned in the form the next day.
That is when things got interesting and my mom received a call. The women in the office were certain that I was up to no good, and wanted to make my parents aware of what their delinquent (perfect attendance) daughter was up to.
My mom then began the process of explaining to the office, the administration, and whoever else was needed that I was 18 years old and that if I wanted to participate in a field trip, I really didn’t need her to tell me that it was ok. Over 20 years later, I believe there is now a form somewhere in the offices of the high school that allows parents to pass signature responsibilities over to their of age children.
My mom was able to trust me to make a decision for myself by that point in my life. Deciding whether or not to attend a picnic is not life-changing, but the decision was all mine.
When beginning to raise my sister and myself, my mom and dad recognized something that many parents seem to struggle with. As parents, we are not raising children. At least we are not raising them to be children. We are raising adults. We are raising the next generation of our entire society.
As parents, we want to protect them from every hurt, defend them from every bully, and shelter them from every sketchy thing that may come their way. That is our job.
But at the same time, we must be teaching them. Explaining WHY that hurt was so bad for them that we needed to intervene. Equipping them to be able to defend themselves (and others) from the bullies of the world (sadly, we know the bullies on the playground grow up to be the bullies of the workplace, and they never truly go away). Educating them on what the sketchy thing online is, and how to avoid it, as well as WHY to avoid it.
I believe that as our children age, the hold that we have on their decisions needs to lesson each year, at age-appropriate levels. Of course, we do not want to be hands-off with an elementary or middle school-aged child. We want to support and guide our children through their early high school years.
But as my oldest turns 17 this year and is looking to his senior year in high school next year, my role begins to shift, again. I feel the role being more of the supporter, the cheerleader, and the guidance counselor. He is still my child, and I am still involved. But ultimately, the foundation has been laid, and it is his turn to start to make the decisions for himself.
As parents, we are there to point out areas of concern, and to continue to guide. But if at this age, he cannot make his own choice about what makes a good friend, or how many activities is too many, or prioritize his workload, then we have not done our jobs as parents. Because the next birthday makes him a legal adult. He will be venturing out into the world as an adult. Making his own decisions, and navigating the world.
As his mom, I want to keep him safe and protected forever, though I know that is not healthy, and will not benefit him in the long run.
Part of the process is knowing that sometimes learning comes from failure. I believe in parenting through natural consequenses (age-appropriate, of course).
Starting in middle school, I no longer police bedtimes. As an adult who has a job, responsibilities, and a life, and who also requires sleep to be a functional human being, I have to make a choice. I naturally gravitate towards being a night owl. My 8-5 job does not co-exist well with that. Daily I have to tell myself to go to bed or pay for it in the morning. I explain to my children when their most beneficial bedtime is. I go through the routine, I hug them, kiss them, send them to bed.
Then I go to bed when it is my time. I do not double and triple check that the 8th-grader went to sleep. If they do not, tomorrow is going to be hard. I will not write a note. I will not give you an excuse to not take your test. If they choose to stay awake in their rooms, they pay for it the next day.
Natural consequences. Because when you are an adult, these are the choices you must make.
If they do not complete the worksheet because they chose to watch youtube/play a game/ride bike/go to a friend’s house/anything else, I will NOT write a note. The last note that I wrote said, “(Name) did not complete his homework because he chose to watch YouTube instead, please handle as you wish.” I have not been asked to write another note to a teacher.
As an adult, if I choose not to complete my assigned work, there are consequences. Their lives are no different.
I am in no way perfect at this thing called parenting, I know that. The goal is to equip them to be able to navigate the world when they are ready and to not hinder them. Sometimes that comes with letting them decide whether or not they want to go on the field trip.