A wise man once wrote: “There is no success that compensates for failure in the home.” Over the years I have listened to many parents who have bemoaned their failures with their children even though they enjoyed extreme success in business or in other endeavors. How should we measure success or failure in our homes?
You will know that you are a success when your children are able to leave you and build an independent life of their own. We don’t ever sever relationships with our children, but it is our responsibility to cut the emotional umbilical cord so that they can truly grow. A parent who dominates or intimidates to be in control of his child robs him of emotional maturity.
Let me suggest that, put in its simplest terms, our children need only two gifts from us: roots and wings. Our children grow best in the soil of security, knowing that they are loved and accepted as the persons they are. Conditional loving — the “I will love you if you do this to please me” type cripples the sinews of emotional muscle and produces an insecure child. He will spend his energy not only trying to win the approval of his parent but of other people as well. Unfortunately, he will never be able to please the parent and all the others. He will grow up wondering about his worth and his capabilities, struggling to “find” himself.
Family “roots” of love, understanding, nurture and guidance contribute to strong self-worth and confidence in discovering and expressing independence as adolescence fades into adulthood.
The second gift our children need from us is wings! Roots seem easier to give but wings, while more difficult, may be far more important. Just like baby eaglets are born to fly, our children are born to leave us at some point. Some of the struggles of adolescence strain the process. One day these “children” are so dependent, but the next they fly with their new wings of independence. On occasion their new independence can strike like a sword of accusation or disapproval. If we can recognize those moments as part of the natural separation process and not feel threatened by what may appear to be loss of respect, both the parent and the child will struggle through the passage into maturity more easily.
This emotional “tug of war” can feel as though the fabric of the relationship is being torn apart, but when the new “adult friends” that once were our children thank us for their “roots” while we watch them soar on their “wings,” the rewards will be obvious.
Wherever you are in the process, a parent who no longer has a child would gladly trade places with you. If you are a brilliant teenager and you can flap your wings as you fly out of the nest, be grateful for the parents who let you mature in the roots of their love.
The family is the foundation of our society. Let’s make sure we succeed in our most important task!
Dr. James E. Kilgore retired as president of the International Family Foundation Inc. and is a resident of Canton.