Dad. Don't Worry, I Got This!
Sometimes, with kids, you just can’t win. You wonder where you went wrong. But then, if you add up all the little teaching moments, you just might realize that you’re on the right track after all.
I realized this when I took my 7-year-old son for a haircut last week. I pushed the remote to unlock the doors, then I walked around the car to the driver’s side. Little did I know that he had followed me to the driver’s side and jumped into the backseat. He could have been cut down in an instant. I’ve told my son hundreds of times that he should never get in on the driver’s side especially if the drivers side is facing the street. That day I thanked God that nothing terrible happened, and then I did what all parents do when their kids fail to listen. I lectured him again about how important this issue is. His “Okay Dad, I got it,” response was different this time. I really want to believe that he has it, but I’ll keep a sharper eye on him regardless. I know that he’s only 7 and that he is going to make mistakes, but just like I thank God for getting us through this ordeal, I also prayed that I am around to deal with the other issues that he will have to face in the future. This got me thinking about what kind of young man he will be 11 years from now, you know, when he’s 18 and getting ready to go off to college.
Every parent wonders, when it’s time to “launch” our kids into the world, will they do the right thing on their own? The stakes will be much higher than opening a car door on the right side of the street. The right thing might be filling out and sending off his college applications, making sure that his SAT scores have been sent in on time, or that he has returned his textbooks which will enable a timely release of his high school diploma. As parents, we assume that an 18-year-old can handle simple tasks like these… just like they take out the garbage every week. Which, come to think of it, they never do without a reminder from us… or two, or twenty. Sure, most kids get it done eventually, but no matter what you do or say, as a mentor, I’ve come to realize that there are some kids who’ll never dump the garbage on Friday, get their paperwork done on time by themselves, or return their books to the school. These are the kids that narrowly miss all the life-changing repercussions of not following through. These are smart kids, often with good grades, but because they are late following through, they miss out on incredible opportunities, thus leaving parents angry, annoyed and mystified – wondering why they can’t take care of such simple things.
As parents, we have to stop assuming that our kids (our 18-year-old legally adult kids!) understand the importance of the administrative side of college. If Hakeem can’t even remember to dump the garbage, why would you expect him to send out his SAT scores in a timely fashion? I’ve come to believe that despite all the talk about “tough love” that I’ve heard, for some kids, the best thing to do is to hold their 18-year-old hand and get the job done. Sure, it’s more work for you. You’ll have to call and make sure their paperwork is in on time. You might have to call the counselor or contact the school to check if the dorm information was submitted. You might have to do everything during that first year of college. But then, there’s a prize for doing this. You get to complain the whole time. You get to tell your kid, “What the heck were you thinking?” and “What in God’s name is wrong with you?” Yeah, you get the chance to become one of those overbearing, annoying, nagging helicopter parents that the world loves to despise these days. And what happens after all of this, when you drop your kid off on that first day of college? Maybe you’ll be thinking of his first day of nursery school, which was what, like ten minutes ago? Be prepared. Your kid is going to hug you and thank you for everything you have done. The sincerity of it will crush you, and because your emotional state at this important moment is high, you might even cry. This is okay because leaving a kid who doesn’t wash or take out the garbage in a dorm room with another kid who doesn’t wash or take out the garbage is some scary stuff.
But before you leave, you’ll need to let your young adult know that they can never do what they did again, that you have things to do at home and that you are working hard to keep them there at college, so it’s time for then to step up and keep up with all the administrative tasks associated with being a young adult in college. At this point, your son or daughter’s eyelids will glaze over their eyes while you continue to lecture them; this is where that familiar blank dense look from their childhood will reappear, which means that they are officially tired of your voice and cannot hear a word that you are saying. This is how you want to leave your child. Please do not think for a second that you should leave them weeping and wanting you. No, you want to leave them that day, wanting you to leave so they can take care of business and do what they need to do on their own.
Trust me, as an annoying, overbearing parent, you’ll cherish the day, someday, when your young adult says those magical words, “Mom, Dad, I took care of it last week. Geez, don’t you trust me? Stop worrying! I got this! I got it!” This will be your confirmation that you’ve done an excellent job, and that maybe, just maybe, they’re going to be alright.