Several years go we bought a little stone tile with a quote etched on it. At that point in our lives our children were still at home, but were nearing high school graduation. We knew the time was short for them to be under our roof and under our control. The aphorism (brief statement of principle) on the tile seemed very relevant to us then, and it still does today. It reads:
Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.
It’s meaning is clear. The path ahead for all of us is uncertain and can be frightening. This includes the path ahead of our children. Our parental instincts are to run interference for them and to smooth the path. When our children are very young, this is normal and required. As our children mature, though, and begin to approach adulthood, it is dangerous to try to prepare the path for them. When Mom and Dad always step in to make things right, fair, and easy, it can give them the false idea that difficulties won’t come. It teaches them that someone else will solve their problems for them. That is irresponsible.
We are at somewhat of a disadvantage culturally when we do not have adolescent puberty rites. In tribal cultures boys and girls did not have the option to remain immature. When their bodies began to change, they were initiated into adulthood through rituals that most of us would find appalling. There was no doubt, though, after the ritual that the boy was to be considered a man and the girl was to be considered a woman. Mom and Dad were not going to run interference any more to keep their children children. I am not arguing that we need to invent puberty rights, but I am arguing that it is the responsibility of parents to grow children who are ready for the path and not afraid of adulthood.
As difficult as it is to do, as parents we must focus our energies on getting our children ready to face life on their own. We should equip them so that they can deal with whatever life throws at them. Sure, if we are still around we can help them and counsel them if they seek such guidance, but they have to learn to deal with life on their own. We will not always be around. Even if we are, we cannot handle their adult problems for them. That is their job.
I have not lived in my parents’ house for over 32 years. They prepared me for the path, and I have functioned as an adult for a long time. I do have to add, though, that while I am no longer under my parents’ control, I am still under their influence. I say this to assure parents that if you adopt the approach I am encouraging, you will raise children that are ready for life’s path, but you will retain your influence. In fact, you will likely have more influence than if you have always tried to control their lives and circumstances. Strangely, children who have been reared in an overprotective way often grow up to resent that level of control and interference.
It is also true that one of the great joys in life is to observe your adult children adapting to life and handling the path they are on. That is when you know you have done your job well and that they will be OK on their own.