Recently, I rolled four oversized suitcases — my daughter’s entire bedroom — through the airport to board a 20-hour, round-the-world flight to Sydney, Australia. Once there, my wife and I settled our daughter into college housing, spent a few days saying goodbye and then left her with no friends, no family, and no return ticket home. Don’t worry, she’ll be back for Christmas, but it felt like she was moving to Mars.
Many have asked, “How was it to say goodbye and leave her?” Oddly, in our final scene together, I hugged and kissed her, but didn’t cry like I presumed (although, I had an epic ugly cry later in the Sydney airport). Instead, a relief came over me:
This is what we’ve prepared her to do, to leave her youth and launch onward into wise and responsible adulthood.
Okay, so technically she is still under my care and authority, but the propellers are spinning, and the runway is clear.
Over the next season of her life, she must grow her spiritual, relational, vocational, and financial responsibility without her parents’ day-to-day input. She must learn to soar.
Here are three “dad axioms” my daughter and I discussed regularly to get her ready to leave and thrive. I think they’ll add value to any parent or future parent.
1. Grow Up.
Parents will serve their children best if they teach adulthood in childhood. Face it, Toys “R” Us was wrong. Kids do want to grow up. They want to do more than make-believe and play house forever, especially in the teen years, and they need our intentional guidance. Of course, our kids need to play and pretend but resist the temptation to think “just let them be kids” when they act foolish or lazy. The goal is to grow up, and parents are the prime catalyst for growth.
There is a dangerous idea that I hear in our culture: high school and college is the best time of life. Many romanticize and/or try to relive this juvenile and transitional phase. Confession: I watched all three High School Musicals and loved them. But adolescence is not when life peaked for me. Growing up should be the best time of your life, and growing up is lifelong. That is the message a child needs to hear sooner than later from his or her parents.
From the moment my daughter clutched her first baby doll to the moment she clutched the key to her college housing, we discussed how healthy grownups act, speak, and think about the world. We talked about faith, friendship, work, money, conflict, risk, and sexuality well before she entered middle school and still do today.
2. Get a Job.
Require work ASAP, because even childhood has responsibilities. Kids want to create, build, have a purpose, and be helpful because God wired us all to work. This is not a shocking statement: Toddlers should work, too. Calm down. I’m not talking about bricklaying, rather simple tasks like cleaning up their toys or putting their wrappers in the trash.
By high school, our children should have had a steady side gig along with their schooling and sports activity — think babysitting, lawn mowing, retail, or something else…get creative. I know what you’re thinking, “What if my child has extracurricular athletic and/or academic demands?” Simple: just make sure he or she still carries some load around the house and knows how to earn an income because talent and IQ alone don’t create prosperity, and it’s really frustrating to be the future spouse of a lazy superstar.
Work provides more than income. Work also gives us purpose and makes us helpful to others. If our child’s work ethic can be ignited and expanded early, then it will make them a better neighbor and member of society.
Work also gives us purpose and makes us helpful to others.
By first-grade, my daughter had a chore chart to earn rewards. By middle school, she had a few gigs like babysitting, and once she turned sixteen she worked part-time at Chik-Fil-A and kept the books and calendar for her brothers’ small business.
3. Grit it Out.
Insist that your children face personal fears, conflict, and adversity from the highchair to the dorm chair. Over-sheltering your children is a common temptation among parents. Although our intentions might be well-meaning, when we habitually bail them out of consequences and discomfort, yield whenever they’re afraid to try something or be uncomfortable, or let them give up when something valuable gets hard or heavy, we weaken their resilience.
Grit is usually not inborn but trained into a person. Of course, parents can train this virtue the wrong way and throw their kids in the deep end to teach them how to swim, but that is typically how you drown someone. Instead incrementally add more to your kids’ responsibilities and expect them to do hard things. This builds their stamina for life. Someday they’ll be in a job, marriage, or tough season that is uncomfortable, and they’ll need to have strong emotional muscles to persevere and win over adversity.
My goal was to make sure my daughter chose something hard to accomplish or step into regularly. We talked about things that made her uncomfortable or demanded much of her as a signal to push forward rather than avoid action. We referenced men and women in the Bible who faced similar circumstances to see how they acted and grew from the testing. As much as possible, I tried to make facing conflict and meeting demands the healthy responses to life.
The ways I’ve seen my daughter respond to “grow up, get a job, and grit it out” allowed me to drive away confident that day in Sydney. She is in no way perfect, nor will she ever be, but I’m hopeful that she’s been given some core tools to grow through her flaws and life’s struggles.