Our society tries to convince parents of young children that they are not necessary except to provide food and shelter, and that experts are much more capable of caring for and educating their children. While some of us might boldly reject that way of thinking and firmly hold on to our role as nurturer, protector, educator, and guide, our confidence withers and fades as our children grow older. Ten years old. Twelve. Fifteen! Seventeen!!
Suddenly we are convinced that we do not know enough, are not smart enough, are not strong enough, can not BE enough to help our children navigate those pre-teen years and young adulthood! We now look to the "experts" - those with specialized degrees that ensure they have the wisdom to keep our children on the path to success. I have seen so many parents who were very involved in their children's lives during the elementary years suddenly back off in middle school and high school, saying things like, "Well, he really doesn't want me around anymore", or "She will have more fun if I'm not there".
While it is true that parenting changes as children get older, and part of our job is to gradually move them from dependence to independence, I think the "gradually" part has gotten lost in our culture. Children are being treated as miniature adults at younger and younger ages, and perhaps given choices that they are not yet equipped or mature enough to handle. I believe that older children NEED their parents just as much as younger ones do.
Again, the parent's role does shift as the child gets older, to more of a facilitator, guide, and trainer. We need to see our job as preparing them for the adult world by giving them opportunities to learn and grow and experience while still under the watchful eye and protection of someone who loves them and has their best interests at heart. Their input should be sought and welcomed, but they should know that ultimately, big decisions belong to the parents because we are the ones responsible to God for our children's well-being until they are old enough to live away from us as adults.
Relationships with our teen-age children should be marked by humor, affection, and caring concern, even when at times we must be tough and stern. Contrary to the belief of many parents, fueled by the entertainment industry, it is possible to LIKE your older kids, and for them to like you in return! Instead of bowing out, stay involved in your older children's activities, like sports, Scouts, Sunday School, shopping, etc. Be friendly and a "mom" to their friends - making brownies or ordering pizza when they are at your house, taking them bowling or to the movies, including special friends in family activities . Play board games, watch movies, go to ballgames, take walks as a family. This is not the same as micromanaging or being a "helicopter" parent. This is being an involved parent and strengthening family bonds already created and nurtured when they were young.
My husband coaches sports teams and was involved in the Boy Scout troop the whole time my sons were involved. We plan and chaperone the Prom. I teach my son in our Co-op. My teens also participate in activities that don't involve us, but my kids know that their parents are likely to be involved in whatever they are doing, and they are fine with that. When we go on vacation, they all want to come, even though jobs and classes sometimes get in the way. Family activities take priority over friend activities. They really have never known anything different.
Enjoy your children - of all ages - and invest yourself in their lives. Too soon, they will be grown and these years of opportunity will be over. And then we will reap what we have sown during the years of their growing up.