DadPad: Connecting with Your Kids series-#1 Be Bold; Engage; Let Go

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Today’s Guest Author: Steve Davis.  Steve is a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force.  After various trips and missions around the world, he retired from the Air Force in 2004.  Steve is married to his wife, Laura.  Together they live in Little Rock, AR and have four children, all graduated from high school and at various early stages of college and post college life.  Steve is a leader in the church, has volunteered to lead a number of groups in building Habitat for Humanity homes for families around the Little Rock area, namely through Fellowship Bible Church’s ShareFest activities.  He’s also led community groups and loves to teach from the Word of God.

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My wife and I have three daughters and one son, who now range in age from 19 to 24. As we moved into the high school years, I saw my kids naturally yearning for more independence. Thanks to great advice from some wise peers (old guys like myself), I came to realize that I was going to spend much more time relating to my kids as adults than I had spent relating to them as children. Instead of dreading their impending adulthood, I began to anticipate it as a new frontier in our relationship. Here are three keys I’ve learned to relating to my adult kids.

  • First, BE WILLING TO LET GO. As our kids move into their last couple of years of high school, they naturally start to pull away. They develop lives of their own, and need greater freedom. Our initial reaction can be to clamp down more tightly. But the harder you hold on, the more they will fight it. It’s important to allow you kids to start making their own decisions about simpler things while they are still in the safe environment of home. I wouldn’t presume to tell you what your kids’ curfew should be, but areas like that are great places for you to reach a consensus with your older high school students before they head off to college, where you won’t know how late they stay out anyway! Most importantly, giving your kids greater responsibility for themselves as they approach graduation (and beyond) reinforces the understanding that you see them as an adult, not just as your child.
  • Second, BE ENGAGED. Wait a minute, what happened to letting go? As with most things in life, it’s all about balance. We don’t want to smother our adult kids, but we don’t want to abandon them, either. My goal is to have at least one significant encounter my adult kids each week. Significant has to be relative, given our current pace of life and my kids’ distinct personalities. I often drive the 30 minutes to my son’s university to share a dinner during the week. For my youngest daughter, handwritten cards are huge. I send her one every week. You need to learn what is meaningful to your kids, and feed that regularly.
  • Third, BE BOLD. I sat down with each of my adult kids and had “the talk”. No, not that one, a different one. I explained that, as they got older, our relationship would, and should, change. It was something to look forward to, not dread. I was excited about developing a relationship as adults, but I would also always be Dad. It took longer to sink in with some than with others, but it made a big difference in how we saw each other. Also, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. How’s your spiritual life? What are you reading in the word? You’ll have to find the fine line between being interested and prying, but if you’ve earned the right to speak into their lives as adults (see “BE ENGAGED” above), the rewards are tremendous.

Our relationships with our adult children are naturally different than when they were younger, but that is a wonderful opportunity both for us and our kids. By gradually letting go, working to stay engaged in their lives in ways that are meaningful to them, and being bold enough to ask relevant questions, we can continue to mentor and impact our kids for years to come.

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