From Caregiver to Consultant

My dear friend Michele told me yesterday that she and her son had the amazing experience of attending a camp for parents and their teens/young adults out in the Houston, Texas area.  It was two days of building relationships and Michele was thrilled to have been able to go with her son.  She was enthusiastic in her retelling of all the things that were planned for the campers which they were able to participate in and enjoy over the two days together.  

One interesting exercise that the parents and teens were assigned gave them the opportunity to understand about trust.  First, the parent guided their teen/young adult, who was blindfolded, by the hand and with their voice, through the woods, being careful to warn them about roots, branches and other obstacles that could hinder their passage or cause them to fall. The next part had the parents guiding with only their voice, abstaining from touching their teen at all, but warning them when necessary as they made their way through their precarious surroundings. Finally, the parents were not allowed to touch or say anything.  They were told to guide only by answering questions that the teen/young adult finally figured out to ask, as the parent stood silently by, waiting to be consulted.

This exercise was an interesting way to point out our varied roles as parents at the different stages and ages of our children.  We must guide our little ones physically in their younger years, keeping them safe and showing them the way at every turn.  We model what they are to do and literally take hold of their hand to teach them where to go and how to navigate through life. We let them know what they shouldn’t do and are also there to pick them up when they fall.  As they get older, we guide them with our voices~ teaching them what is right, disciplining when they do wrong, encouraging our children when they fail, and supporting them to try new things and do things on their own by speaking courage and love into their lives.

This exercise was a brilliant way to illustrate the progress of our guidance: they gave the terms “caregiver”, “cop”, “coach” and “consultant” as the four stages or roles that parents go through in their children’s lives.

These are similar terms to those used by family psychologist, John Rosemond.  He refers to the roles of servant (from ages 0 to 2 or 3), authority (from ages 3-13), leader (13-18 years of age) and mentor (18+ into adulthood).  The ideas are the same.  First we spend all our time and energy making sure our infant's basic needs are met: shelter, water, food, safety…then we take on the role of making sure our toddlers and young children are learning right from wrong, treating others nicely, and learning manners. Soon we are checking to make sure our middle-aged children are doing what they need to do at home, in school and in the community and learning compassion and respect, among other things. 

When they reach the teenage years, we coach and lead our teens to do things themselves, to learn skills and values, to become responsible and resourceful.  Finally, as they launch from our nests to head out into the world on their own (either to college or the workplace) we guide them as mentors and consultants, making sure they know they have our support and can come to us with questions and concerns as they learn to be contributing members of society.

The hardest part for us as parents, I believe, is making sure that we are mindful of transitioning from one phase into the next at the appropriate times.  It is hard to let go and trust our children to make good decisions on their own without us around.  But if we stick around, they will never learn to be on their own! It is such a balancing act…knowing when the time is right to hand them the ball and let them run with it.

From caregiver/servant to consultant/mentor and the other roles in between, we can count on many challenges and struggles as we prepare our children for launch.  However, every age and every stage is worth the trepidation and trials because they must learn, as we did, how to make it in this big world without us…we will someday not be around!  We must teach them as much as we can, as soon as we feel they are ready.  They will thank us some day for helping them to be ready to tackle life as successful and happy adults.

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What keeps you from letting go?  How will you know that your child is ready to handle more things on their own?  Will you able to trust them to take on more and more responsibility?   It is our job to teach them, allow them to make small mistakes and then watch them succeed.  In what ways are you laying the foundation for someday being in the consultant role?

Thank you as always for reading and commenting.  Please share my website/blog with other parents…and have a wonderful rest of the week!

For more information about the extraordinary camp referred to in this blog, check out this website:      http://www.outbackamerica.org