But every so often there’s a stubborn bird-ling who would seemingly rather starve than leave the safety and comfort of the nest. So mama bird, in her infinite and instinctual wisdom, shoves him out.
As parents teaching our kids to be adults I think we’d all prefer the gradual approach of enticing our kids out on their own until they feel confident to fly the coop. But there really are times in life when we have to shove. If we don’t and we let our kids stay where it’s safe and comfortable for too long, we risk missing an important and formative window of self-actualization.
I say all this as a “self-shover”. Many of my students have heard me talk about how painfully shy I was in high school. I was the type of kid who’d throw up on the way to the dentist, not because of any fear of dental work (no, that would be too rational and normal), but because I was afraid to talk to the dental hygienist. I literally made myself so nervous I’d throw up. I say this as the same kid who would make my three years younger sister order for me in restaurants because I was too afraid to talk to the waitress.
In fairness (and because she always reads my posts) my mom did a fair amount of shoving. She forced me to talk to new people, stay in volleyball even though I cried all the way through tryouts (how I made the team is a miracle to this day), look people in the eye even though I was beet red and my cheeks burned, and get a job as at The Whole Enchilada to interact with new people in a “professional” setting.
All this incrementally helped, but when it came to college, I took refuge in my acceptance to a highly selective institution that just happened to be a thirty-minute drive from home. I went home at least once a month on the weekends. I still had one foot in the nest.
It’s a good thing God gifted me introspection, and eventually I came to the difficult realization that if I were to make the most of my life, I have to shove myself out of the nest.
So I took as big a running leap as I could, and I went to study in Tokyo, Japan, for five months. By myself. It was the hardest, and most important, thing I’ve ever done.
What I’ve learned in thinking about my own experience with growing up and what I see with the hundreds of students I’ve assisted in their own journeys is that growing up is incredibly hard. There are tears. There are times kids want to quit. There are normal low points where kids want so badly to crawl under the blankets of their childhood bed with a plate of mom’s chicken and rice with the family dog keeping their feet warm. So kids face two decisions:
- Stick it out, deal with it, and hope it gets better (it almost always does, and the transformation that takes place is literally life-changing)
- Give in to those tough feelings and return to the safety of the nest
Parents are in a tough spot. You dance the line between encouraging independence by letting kids struggle through natural feelings of doubt and panic and stress that are inherent in learning self-sufficiency, and care-taking when children need to still be children: loved, cared-for, and safe.
I don’t have a magic formula for when to swoop and when to shove. But I do know that there are ways to build in a more graduated release of responsibility and independence that will help smooth your child’s transition later on.
Here are some ideas:
- Let your student do a residential summer program at a college or university. By doing a program like this, kids are safe, supervised, making friends, and trying out life as a college student before college starts. This is seriously the best suggestion I can give to any pre-college student and family.
- Keep them in their commitments until they see them through. If they apply to be the “chip girl” at the Whole Enchilada and want to quit after day three, remind them they made a commitment, and the need to see it through for an appropriate amount of time (my mom finally relented after three months of agony for both of us).
- Give them some control over their schedule. This might take the form of a family calendar where they are expected to add items for where they will be and when, a commitment to text whenever they arrive at a new location, or something else, but high school students should be practicing with managing at least a portion of their own time.
- Let them (make them) handle their own issues with their teachers, and teach them to do it professionally and respectfully. This means sending the email asking to meet about a low test grade, or requesting a meeting to discuss some unfairness that transpired in class, solo. If you need to follow up with the teacher on your own, that’s fine, but when your child sees you marching in to handle it, they learn to rely on you to solve their problems.
- Let them explore colleges and majors outside your comfort zone. This is a big one, and I understand it might also be a controversial one. In today’s dynamic and global world, we risk limiting our children if they are confined to a narrow geographic area. Do I believe every child is ready to go to NYU for college? Goodness, no. Do I believe students benefit from exploring for themselves if they are truly ready and wanting to go far from home or be close? Yes, I do. You’d be amazed at student’s abilities to ascertain what’s best for themselves.
Mama-birds (and papa-birds), I know the dance is tough. I wish you all the type of children who willingly climb out on the limb through your incremental enticing until they fly with their full might. But if you have a bird who needs a little shove, I wish you, too, the encouragement to shove lovingly knowing you’re doing the right thing, tough as it may be (and loud as they may squawk).
I’m done birding around now. Have a great week, everyone!