What does it mean to be a parent?

Every spring, a pair of swallows arrives at our front porch to update their nest and nurture offspring. A month or so later, their young leave the nest to learn the fine points of flying and finding food. This cycle sometimes repeats itself two more times before they migrate south again.

Our human children take longer – 18 years or more to be ready to “leave the nest.” It takes this long for them to become adults who can make their way in the world. And for many, much longer. Why? Because they have a lot to learn. It takes this long to create a self and build the skills, strengths and much more that add up to being a capable adult. For example:

  • Knowledge about the world beyond the home.
  • Learning, thinking and problem solving skills.
  • Life skills for establishing relationships and managing a life.
  • Experience using these skills to build confidence and know-how.
  • Values – clarifying what’s important to them.
  • Attitudes about things that matter.
  • Resolving their personal approach to spirituality.
  • Identifying and launching a career.

These aspects of development won’t happen the same for every child. What they learn will make them unique, as will their culture, memories, friendships, tastes, preferences, interests, health, fitness, thoughts, feelings, goals and dreams.

In short, by the time they arrive at adulthood, no one among the 7 billion other human beings on Earth – present, past or future – will be anything like the child you raised.

The bottom lines:

  • Human children are nothing like swallows. They have an amazing amount of work to do to prepare for life in the world.
  • Most of this work will not happen in the classroom.
  • You can’t do this work for them.
  • They will need all the guidance, coaching, and encouragement they can get.

Will your child be one of those who are ready? Will your child have created an authentic self in spite of the influences of people and culture who want them to think and act a certain way?

These aren’t rhetorical questions. I’ve known a number of young people who in their twenties and were nowhere close to being ready. Maybe you have, too.

Raising a child to become a happy, effective adult is an amazing challenge. To paraphrase a currently popular saying, our job as adults is to help kids prepare for the road ahead, not to prepare the road for the child.

Helping your child develop vital thinking skills is a huge aspect of preparing them to leave the nest. My latest book, How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain, has dozens of suggestions.

Also you can improve the way you listen to your child, growing the bond between you. Download the FREE ebook, Listening to Understand.