Very early in the Bible we find the Creator’s plan for humanity includes children eventually separating from parents and bonding with a life mate. We are to leave our original family and create a new family. This involves work by two generations, and it can be difficult work for both.
My mother liked to tell about me running away from home when I was only three years old. Mom had a season of panic while everyone frantically looked for me. Finally they found me several blocks away, visiting some nice people. This was the late 1940’s in a small Indiana town, so not quite the kind of horror it would be in Tulsa today. Still, Mom was far from ready for me to leave home.
When I did leave home about 15 years later to begin a four-year tour in the Navy, Mom was still not ready for me to leave. As she held on to me and cried uncontrollably at the bus station, I thought, “Surely boot camp can’t be that bad.” I later learned two things: first, Mom wasn’t crying about boot camp, and second, boot camp was that bad. Mom was having a very typically hard time letting go of her boy. In fact, as is often the case, she was having a harder time letting me go than I had leaving.
When my youngest child was just five or six years old he reasoned out the following rudiments of a life plan: when he became an adult, he would live in the house right next door to ours; his older brother and sister would live in the two houses across the street. He expected all the children would leave, but not very far. He is now in his mid 30’s; and he and all of his siblings live in different states. We have close relationships with our adult children, although not geographically close.
If our children are to leave us, they must be willing to leave, and we must let them leave. Clearly, there are two sides to this task, one for each generation. And this leaving is not purely geographical. It involves a radical transformation of the parent-child relationship.
The failure to accomplish this basic task is behind much family dysfunction. When we do not leave, we cannot cleave. That is, when we do not effectively transform the parent-child relationship (leave), we cannot effectively bond with a life mate (cleave). When children are inappropriately held on to by parents, their maturity may be impeded and generational resentments escalate.
The years of parenting our children are really to be years of preparation to release them. It is not a task to be initiated in their senior year of high school. We need years to practice letting go of them. We also need years to encourage their assumption of personal responsibilities.
We need to prepare our children with the life skills needed to live independent of us. Helping our children is good, but it is possible to help too much. If we do, we can inadvertently, yet effectively, teach helplessness. To exempt our children from natural challenges of life or the consequences of their irresponsibility, thwarts some of the character-building opportunities life naturally offers.
These tasks vary in their difficulty from person to person. Some parents can release their children fairly easily; others do it with great agony. Some children will separate from parents and assume responsibility for their lives easily and enthusiastically; others will need much encouragement to launch out on their own; and some even need nudged out of the nest. We can accomplish these tasks and so can our children. It is God’s will. Plan to do it, seeking God’s help.
God’s help comes in many ways. It comes directly as He leads our hearts in thought and action – this in response to our earnest pleas for His guidance. His help also comes through resources He has inspired, like books containing godly counsel, healthy support groups, and other supportive relationships. Seek the help He provides. He does provide.