On a recent trip to the dentist office to get a cleaning, I had a memorable conversation with the receptionist. I have known Lauren for almost a decade. She has been the receptionist at my dentist office since I started going there. She is always pleasant, smiling and genuinely seems interested in how I am. I brought each of my boys with me to the dentist when they were very young. Each visit since, she has asked me about them, how old they are and what they are up to.
On this most recent visit, she inquired about my boys as usual. I mentioned my youngest was getting ready to enter kindergarten and she reminded me that they will be grown in what will seem like a blink of an eye. Instead of stopping there, she shared that her children were now grown. She shared without any prompting on my part, that while you can help guide them when they are young, you sometimes have to stand by and watch them struggle, possibly fail, as an adult. She said, “You sometimes can see what’s going to happen before it happens, but you need to let them experience it on their own.” She continued, “You want to protect them, but realize they don’t appreciate it, or want your insight or suggestions. They just want you to be there for them. It can be hard, especially when a choice they’ve made ends up with a bad result, but what can you do? They’re adults.”
I thought about this for a moment, and replied, “You’re right. I know as an adult, I really only want my parents support and encouragement. If I want their advice, I let them know.”
Boundaries are an interesting thing. As parents of young children, we are tasked with teaching our children, showing them right from wrong, helping them with their education, and exposing them to values, morals, and beliefs. We can convince ourselves it is our life long mission to be our children’s teachers, but in reality, they will only want to be taught for some long. Then they will want to learn for themselves. If we keep a healthy boundary and let them make decisions for themselves as they enter adulthood, we show our confidence in their skills. It is hard to keep you mouth shut and opinions to yourself when you see someone making a choice you wouldn’t make, or a choice you believe will end badly. You want to help your child avoid pain or disappointment, but everyone needs the chance to grow and experience life in their own way.
Lauren reminded me of something important on this dentist visit. That my role with my children will not always be what it is now. I will need to maintain boundaries, not only for my own sake, but more importantly for my children. I am not looking forward to seeing my children grown and making decisions that I might not agree with, but I do want to maintain a healthy relationship with them, and do hope that they will occasionally ask me for advice after they leave our home. I want them to flourish, and more importantly want them to know my husband and I believe in them and will be there to support and encourage them.
I never expected for my dental check-up to contain such sage advice.
How are you preparing for your role to change as your child enters adulthood? Are you thinking about it now, or holding off until you have to think about it? What will you do differently?