By Jessica Van Roekel, Crosswalk.com
When our children are young they need our affection and attention and with it comes the rewards of chubby little arms squeezing our necks, slobbery kisses, and little voices that say, “I wuv you, Mama.”
Our hearts melt as warm fuzzy feelings fill us. Then as they grow, they need guidance and support from us.
We encourage them in their interests by being their adoring audience for every ballet recital, ball game, or impromptu at-home concert. Our reward is their shining eyes looking to us for support and approval.
Once our kids reach the teen years, they need to not need us, and that doesn’t have the warm fuzzy reward of hugs and adoration. Oftentimes it brings conflict, hurt feelings, rejection, and fear that we’ve lost our child forever.
Carl Jung calls this individuation and it’s the right and natural process of forming a stable personality not dependent on another person for emotional, physical, or psychological help.
It’s Okay to Miss Those Days—But They Have to End Eventually
Do you remember the days when your child’s face lit up at the sight of you? I hold those memories like a precious strand of pearls. Each pearl’s shimmer reminds me of the light in my children’s eyes.
I remember the way my son’s eyes would shimmer with glee as I swung him round and round, my daughter’s delighted laugh when I would walk in the room, and their request for the nighttime lullabies.
Those were the days when my kids thought I hung the moon, and I was the sun they orbited around. I miss being their favorite person.
However, when I was a brand-new mom, I knew that having kids didn’t mean keeping them little and dependent on me. It meant raising them to be adults with a strong sense of self, the ability to think for themselves, and a strong moral compass.
Letting these three goals guide my parenting decisions means I’ve needed to make some hard decisions with unexpected consequences. A sense of self, independent thinkers, and a strong moral compass means a slow break from me as they own their identity, thoughts, and morality.
I’ve raised and am raising my kids to be independent of me, but at times, that choice has brought painful consequences, like feeling a little bereft as though I’ve lost my status as “favorite person.” But, it’s absolutely worth it.
Photo Credit: ©Getty/Mladen-Zivkovic
1. The Search for Identity
The search for identity seems to be the key shifter that moves a parent out of the “favorite” slot and into somewhere below first place.
Our kids, from the time they’re born, are moving towards independence. We start with an infant who can’t lift her own head and we assist them until they gain the strength needed. Babies learn to use a spoon because our hand is guiding them and we let go when they can spoon feed themselves.
Independence is good.
It would be rather strange if I prevented my child from learning to dress themselves, feed themselves or to walk. We need to maintain this method of teach, guide, and release as our kids transition into adolescence.
Our children navigate through three key components of identity: their definition of themselves, their place in the family, and who they are in Christ. Our kids define themselves through a myriad of internal and external thoughts and experiences.
What do they think about themselves? How have their experiences shaped their thoughts about themselves? The answers to these questions help us understand how they see themselves.
Their “identity” in the family matters too. Are they the uber responsible one, the messy one, the clown, the serious, or the moody one? These things matter and they affect how our kids see themselves. I’ve worked to make sure each one of my kids knows how unique and special they are and that they have their own set of unique strengths and weaknesses.
And finally their identity in Christ—do they know who they are to Jesus and how he sees them?
Our children are individuals, born with unique traits—positive and negative—that are there for God to use and refine as he sees fit. They will not have my exact successes and struggles, but they will have their own for God to use to depend their relationship with him.
A strong identity in Christ, not mom or dad, is what carries them through turbulent years.
2. Raising Independent Thinkers
Some of my kids had the “I’ll do it myself” tendency, while others were quite content to let me do much for them. Sometimes it’s easier to tell someone what to think rather than teach them to think for themselves.
Freedom of expression at home, through their likes and dislikes, and the freedom to fail and then learn from their failures teaches our kids to be independent thinkers. They learn to problem solve, what worked and what didn’t, and how to express themselves in a family filled with different personalities and perspectives.
A good working understanding of biblical wisdom and knowledge is essential in teaching our kids how to think. The bible is clear on the benefits of wisdom and seeking counsel as well as thinking for ourselves.
Our kids need to transition to seeking God’s word for wisdom and to have other godly people who they go to for advice. This step sometimes feels like we’re not their most important person in their life, but that’s okay because we’re teaching them to think independently.
3. A Working Moral Compass
As an adolescent individuates, moral development occurs.
Moral development starts with a moral foundation. All those nights reading Bible Stories, praying, and living biblical principles in front of our kids lays a firm foundation for them to build upon.
If our hearts and minds always point towards him, we won’t lose our way. Sometimes though, we travel through valleys, over mountains, or through briar patches; and since our kids are unique individuals, they will experience their own valleys, thorn bushes, and mountaintops. And just as we sometimes question God’s goodness and mercy and our faith seems fragile, our children will as well.
We must be careful during these times to not panic. God can and will handle our kid’s big questions, but when our kids question everything that their moral foundation is built, we can feel like it’s a personal offense against us.
We feel as though our kids are saying “no” to God and to us, but, we must remember that it’s not so much about us and our feelings as facilitating this growth opportunity between our kids and the Lord.
Each trial is an opportunity for God to grow each of us.
We must remember that each of us, our kids included, have a unique response to the work that God does in our hearts.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Deagreez
You Are Still Important
I’m not my kid’s favorite person anymore, but I am important. And you are too.
That’s what we need to remember as we navigate these years of individuating and independence.
As parents, we need to adjust our parenting styles or we will stumble. We had instant rewards when our kids were little ones. We gave them love, affection, guidance, and support and they welcomed it. But during these years when we are not their most favorite person, we must remember that the rewards come later.
It’s in the teen years where they need to not need us. They cannot be dependent on us for their identity, thinking, and morality. This is when they begin to own their own sense of self.
They begin to evaluate what they have to offer this world and what kind of people they want to be. They begin to develop their own faith in God based on their own experiences and revelation about him. So yes, I am no longer their favorite person and sometimes I ask in desperation, “what happened?”
But then I remember that maturity: physical, psychological, emotional, intellectual, financial, and spiritual is what I want for my kids.
Love does what is best. It gives what is needed. That means that we respect their differences, give progressive freedom as they grow, and set boundaries around risky behavior.
This doesn’t mean that we will always be our kid’s favorite person, but it does mean that we help them become the person—the unique, special, beautiful one— that God intends.
As we remember to shift our perspective away from the focus on ourselves to what’s best for our kids, we’re able to navigate the times when we’re not their favorite person with grace.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Sai de Silva
Jessica Van Roekel leads worship in her local church and writes at www.welcomegrace.com. She believes that through Christ our personal histories don’t have to define our present or determine our future and writes about the transforming power of grace. Jessica lives in a rural setting surrounded by farmland and her husband and children. You can connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.