Launching Our Teenagers

Q: How long it will take for my 19 year old daughter to wake up and see reality? Recently she moved to another state with her deadbeat boyfriend and their baby. My husband said that in time, (and it may even take a few years), she will see for herself what kind of guy she is with. In the meantime, I don't want to sit around sulking and dwelling on it. I thought we taught her right from wrong, so why is she making such terrible choices? Where did we go wrong? Can you give me a little bit of advice on how to not let this situation hurt me so much?

Jill from Florida (Mom of 4)

A: You have reached a pivotal juncture that all parents will eventually face:

The Big Letting Go.

I'm glad to hear that you don't want to sit around dwelling on your daughter's choices. You have your own life to live, your own choices to make, and your own opportunities to pursue.

I agree with your husband that it may take a while, but your daughter will have to come to her very own conclusions about what works for her and what doesn't. You may be dead right in your assessment of her situation, and if she's like most young adults, she is not likely to take your word for it -- she needs to figure this out for herself. The only way she can do that is through experience; making choices, living with the consequences, and then making new choices.

That said, let me acknowledge that the stakes feel like they go through the roof when our children bear children before they themselves seem to have fully matured. It's much easier to be the detached witness and supportive resource when there's not a grandchild involved. You and your husband sound like a good team, so luckily you can turn to each other for support and restraint when you are feeling compelled to intervene.

Our children's choices, whether they are age 9, 19, or 29, are not necessarily a direct reflection of our parenting. They are autonomous beings. They have free will, and like most red-blooded humans, they want to exercise it. The outcome of good parenting is not children who never make mistakes! We all need to learn through experience. We all need to test what we have learned. We all need to figure things out for ourselves.

Parents are the launching pad. Children are the rockets. They set their own course after they take off.

At the risk of mixing metaphors here ... nobody I know learned to ride a bike without falling over at least a few times. In order to achieve balance, we had to learn how to constantly return our weight to the center when we moved too far to one side or the other. With practice, we get so good at these tiny corrections that we hardly notice we are doing them, and we can simultaneously maintain forward momentum. Your daughter is still learning to find her balance. No one else can do this for her.

So what CAN you do? The same things you did back when she was learning to ride a bike. You ran beside her, holding her steady until she gathered the courage to try it alone, and then you gracefully and subtly stepped aside.

You understood that she would need to fall -- that it was a necessary part of the process -- and when she did, you expressed your confidence that she would get this figured out and be cruising around the neighborhood in no time.

You kept extra bandaids and kisses handy, because you knew there would be some scrapes to tend to. You weren't alarmed when she fell, because you trusted that she was learning more about balance every time.

You encouraged her, you supported her, you cheered her on, and you let her figure it out herself. You HAD to, because balance is an inside job.

And soon enough, when she gained competence and confidence and started riding faster than you could keep up with, you knew that your help was no longer needed. So you headed to the shade to relax with a nice cool lemonade, keeping the kisses and bandaids close at hand, just in case.

Good luck, Jill. I hope this helps.

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