Dear mom of older children,
Remember those days… the days when you were largely responsible for everything regarding your children? You monitored every input that went into their little bodies and minds. You knew what they ate and when they pooped. You oversaw what they wore, their level of cleanliness, and their interactions with other people.
You recognized what toys they played with, who their playmates were and how their interests developed. You knew the songs they sang, what books they read and you certainly observed them at play with other children to ensure they were being kind and were treated fairly.
You knew you were needed. Without you, your children would literally not survive! And being needed felt good, as it provided the validation that was most certainly missing in the role where you had no supervision, feedback, or opportunities for professional development.
Somehow, over the years, you have managed to gradually remove all the scaffolds that were developmentally necessary for your children when they were small. Now that they are teenagers, you no longer need to keep such a close eye on every detail of your children’s lives.
But today, instead of feeling relief at their independence, perhaps you feel as though you have worked yourself out of a job. However, although they no longer need you to fix their meals, orchestrate their social lives or supervise their hygiene habits, your job is not yet complete.
According to scientists who study brain development, your children are not as independent as you might think. Recent neurological research show that the part of the brain which is responsible for helping to make decisions involving long-term planning, self regulation and delayed gratification in order to realize long-term gain is the last part of the brain to fully mature. In fact, this section of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex) only kicks into full gear as young adults reach their early to mid-20s.
This scientifically proven phenomenon has tremendous implications for parenting. It is the parents’ responsibility to actively take on the role of a mature prefrontal cortex on behalf of teenagers by setting limits, establishing boundaries and helping their children learn what delayed gratification and long-term planning looks and feels like.
With appropriate scaffolds such as these, teenagers have the opportunity to practice the necessary decision-making and planning skills until they are ready to fully take them on independently.
You have not yet worked yourself completely out of a job as a parent. Your current objectives may not so much relate to micromanaging your children’s lives, but rather to intentionally remaining a reliable, supportive presence in their daily routines.
Your children still need you! Only now, unlike when they were younger, they need you in a different, less visible, hands-off sort of way.
Your teens need you to be their primary source of:
They need you to:
Set and keep boundaries
Offer a variety of perspectives
Model appropriate polite interactions
Ask guiding and clarifying questions
Although it may seem to be a thankless job (what part of parenting doesn’t feel that way?), your nearly grown children need you to be a shock absorber of their big feelings and a sounding board of all their ideas, hopes and dreams.
You are needed, not to do the things they can and should be doing for themselves, but to continue to BE the parent, doing the intangible things they will almost certainly not recognize and thank you for.
The truth is this:
Your child needs YOU.
Your parenting days are NOT over.
The time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor is still years away.
Your intentional, undistracted presence at key points throughout the day is foundational to your children’s continued healthy development as young adults.
Identify specific times and make a concerted effort to be physically, mentally and emotionally available to you children. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of doing things your children can and should do for themselves. When you do, you rob them of their ability to develop competence and autonomy along with opportunities to fail in a safe space that encourages growth and second chances.
Your kids need you! They depend on you. They appreciate you and they love you.
Hang in there just a few years longer! And thanks, for being such a great mom!