Mentors are a great asset to have in your life. I’ve had a few different mentors for different things in my life over the years. There have been counseling mentors, teaching mentors, spiritual formation mentors, organizational mentors, hunting mentors, husbanding mentors, and parenting mentors. They all have been used by God to help shape the plans and strategies my wife and I have utilized in these areas of our lives.
The parenting mentors we’ve had were most helpful. There was one concept that I put in practice that I have been asked about more than any other thing I’ve ever spoken of regarding parenting. I had a college professor of family ministry who said that he and his wife would give their kids, when they became seniors in high school, all the responsibilities and freedoms their kids would have as freshman in college.
Let me explain a bit. What responsibilities will be required of a kid who is a freshman in college? Well, that 18 or 19 year old will have to be able to manage his/her resources (time, money, and energy). They will have to be able to manage their emotions. They will have to be able to deal effectively with people in authority and they will have to be able to behave at a high level of civil responsibility (follow directions, respect other people and property, and generally get along in society). Those are basically the things required to succeed your first year in college/work life. As for freedoms, that young adult will get to decide who to spend time with and how to spend that time. They will get to live out their own set of values (like whether or not to attend church, or serve others, or go to the library and read assigned or unassigned reading selections). They will choose their own foods to eat and if and when to eat those chosen foods. They will decide what to wear (and also whether it is a clean or dirty pair of jeans) to the function they get to decide they are going to attend or not. You get the picture? So if I’m a senior in high school, I get to start living the college life now. My professor believed that if the kid wasn’t mature enough to handle those freedoms and responsibilities as a senior, then he wanted to know that before that kid went off to college and wasted a sizeable investment. Also, he wanted that same kid to make those mistakes of immaturity while still living under the umbrella of the parents love, care, and guidance. How’d it go? He said three of his four children flourished and one of his kids made a lot of foolish mistakes his senior year. Those mistakes kept the parents from making the foolish mistake of sending their son off to college because they knew (painfully) that he wasn’t ready for that level of freedom especially on their ticket.
I thought this was a brilliant idea. My wife thought it was an “okay” idea. We eventually settled on our girls having the responsibilities of a college freshman at the beginning of their senior year and the freedoms after Christmas break. It turned out fine. It’s all about what I call “back planning”. Back planning is when you determine what will be needed for today, this month, or this year and planning for it the day or month or year before. For example, my wife is a kindergarten teacher and she knows one of her primary responsibilities as a kindergarten teacher is to prepare students for the first grade. Almost everything she does is to prepare a kid to be successful in the first grade. She has to know what the first grade teachers going to expect when her students arrive in their class. Whatever it is will be, her responsibility is to get them ready for that task or skill. So it stands to reason that if a teen is to be successful their first year away from home they better have the skills, experience, and maturity to pull it off. Not necessarily perfectly, but effectively.
This is the way it looked in our home for our girls when they were seniors. We never woke them up for anything. If they got somewhere on time it was because they managed their own time effectively. We didn’t wash their clothes, prepare their meals, or keep them organized. They succeeded or failed on their own terms. We didn’t nag them to go to church or any other thing like that. We certainly never asked them if they had all their homework done. The plan was that we did not want our kids to make any decisions for the first time when they went off to college. We hoped all their first time decisions would be made while they were still near to us. This way we could be available to them if they were immature in ways we couldn’t see at the time.
This plan meant we had to be purposeful in our back planning. If they were going to be washing their own clothes their senior year then they needed to be taught how by the end of their junior year and so on. If they were going to be solving their own relationship problems in their senior year we’d better talk about those kind of topics their freshman, sophomore, and junior years. The back planning goes all the way back to wherever your kids are right now because right now you need to be preparing them to be successful for the next stage.
As parents, our responsibility is to prepare our kids to emancipate successfully with adequate skills, abilities, and maturity to succeed away from home. Some teens are ready sooner than their senior year. Some aren’t ready until they are about 42. That’s a whole different topic. Anyway, I challenge you to assess where your kids are right now, determine what they need for the next stage or chapter, and view your parenting in light of that understanding.
God bless and have a great day. I welcome your comments. Matt.