Relationship Connection: Have I done enough for my son before he leaves home?

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Question

My oldest just turned 15 and I’m starting to worry that I’ve not done enough as a father to prepare him, to give him the training he needs, to give him the right experiences and so on. I didn’t have a great childhood and grew up in a messed-up home, so I have no idea what a kid needs to know before they leave home. I also have other kids behind him, so I want to make sure that all of them are getting what they need before they leave our home. Any suggestions on how I can make sure I’m on track?

Answer

Your son is fortunate to have you guiding him into adulthood. The fact that you’re even asking a question like this is a solid indicator that you’re on the right track as you prepare him to live outside of your home.

I recognize that you’re looking for specific answers, which I’ll share, but I also want you to recognize that your ongoing awareness of his need for you to be his mentor and guide is no small thing. Your presence and concern for his future is the most important thing he needs from you as a father.

You recognize that your family didn’t prepare you very well, yet here you are longing to give your children something completely different. You are what Carlfred Broderick described as a “transitional family character.” Consider his beautiful description of this important family role:

(A transitional family character is the one who) breaks the chain of destructiveness in such families. Although these children may suffer innocently as victims of violence, neglect, and exploitation…some find the strength to ‘metabolize’ the poison within themselves, refusing to pass it on to future generations. Before them were generations of destructive pain; after them the line flows clear and pure. Their children and children’s children will call them blessed.

I’m pretty certain you’ve already reversed many of the patterns you experienced in your family of origin, thus sparing your children the chaos and isolation that caused you so much pain.

Even though you didn’t have personal role models for how family life could prepare children for adulthood, you now know what doesn’t work. It’s a safe bet that even doing the opposite of what you experienced will be healthier than what you experienced. However, swinging the pendulum the opposite direction doesn’t always leave you feeling intentional about what your kids really need.

Here are some considerations as you stage your first child to launch into the world.

Your role changes from managing to influence when your children leave home.

In other words, you still have a significant role to play in their lives after your children leave home. When children are in your home, so much of what we do as parents is managing, structuring and directing their lives, especially when they’re little. As they grow into adolescence and young adulthood, we manage less and influence more. And, when they’re fully on their own, they’ll have a trusted guide who can help influence them as they enter new phases of life.

You can’t teach your children every life lesson at home.

Some experiences can only be learned by personal experience. Even though we work to help our children steer clear of painful mistakes, a critical aspect of their development is to pass through their own trial and error process. Keep teaching your values and lessons, trusting that your children will remember your example and words.

Study what healthy families do and implement these into your family culture.

There are excellent resources available to support you as a parent in creating a healthy family culture. One of my personal favorite books is “The Secrets of Happy Families” by Bruce Feiler. You are more likely to create a healthy family environment as you intentionally create conditions in your home that follow these principles.

Teach them that making mistakes isn’t the end of the world.

One of the best things you can do to prepare them for life as an adult is to show them what happens when mistakes happen. Show them that they can repair, apologize and keep moving forward. Teach them about your own process of dealing with mistakes, accountability, and growth. Let them know that when they make mistakes, they’re learning. As you reveal your own personal process of learning from your mistakes, you’ll not only give them permission to be human, but also show them how to grow from their experiences.

Your care and concern for your children is doing more for them than either of you can possibly understand at this stage of life. As you stay with them through all of the stages of life, your influence and guidance will be a tremendous blessing to them and future generations.

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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