This piece originally appeared in the January 2018 ‘The New Year’ issue of Fernie Fix Magazine.
A series of charts on the Internet (in an article called The Tail End) break down how much time there is within a hypothetical 90-year lifespan to spend on things that matter. The author of these charts, Tim Urban, was floored to realize that 80% of all the time he would ever spend with his parents already happened before he turned 18.
Perhaps this is a wake-up call to hang out more with your own mom and dad, but I want to remind you the opposite is also true; once your kids leave home you might only have left about 20% of your total shared time together. Some of you with teenagers probably think this is good news, but I assure you that when your kids fly the nest it can be deeply disorienting.
Knowing how quickly your window of parenting opportunity is closing, in the spirit of the New Year I’m going to suggest you bring more resolve to your efforts. Like in other goal-setting endeavours, it’s essential to plan with the end in mind. How do you want to feel about yourself as a parent on the day you wake up to find your precious offspring is living away from you? What kind of relationship do you want to have with your teenager when they leave home?
I am confident many readers are familiar with work planning at the office or strategic planning in an organizational setting. Parenting deserves that same level of special attention! I’m sure if someone asked, ‘are your children more important than your job?’ ten out of ten times you would reply that your children are the top priority. Maybe it seems simplistic or even absurd to apply this level of purpose to family life, but give it a try.
Ask yourself: do I want to be filled with pride when my daughter departs to travel Asia for a year? Do I want to send my son off to college with smiles and lots of memories to cherish? How much emotional closeness do I hope to have with my kids when they leave home? Form a detailed visualization of the future. You could imagine your son inviting you to his place for a wonderful meal he prepared. You might picture your daughter calling to tell you about her new boyfriend because she trusts you and cares what you think.
After you get specific with your post-parenting vision you can plan back from there. A simple SWOT analysis will help you understand where you’re at and what you could do to steer your parenting ship in the direction you choose. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. As an example, let’s say my goal for parenting my teenager is that I want us to have a sense of warm and relaxed closeness when he grows up. I know this may not currently be the case because teens are fully occupied with differentiating themselves from their parents and developing an independent identity, but that’s okay. We can be realistic about the present while still boldly planning for a desired future.
In my SWOT analysis I could write down one of my parenting Strengths is that I am playful; one parenting Weaknesses is that I don’t create a very socially stimulating home environment; one parenting Opportunity is that I could plan a vacation with extended family for more fun and interaction; one parenting Threat is that I go to sleep earlier than my teenager so it’s difficult for me to track what he’s doing and who he is with.
When our kids are teenagers sometimes we think they don’t need us very much, and we might feel burned out by parenting after more than a decade in the game. This can trick us into pulling back from our teens and missing out on valuable time when we could be building these relationships for life. Next month I will explore this contradiction at the heart of parenting teenagers.
As you start 2018 a bit of intentionality at this stage goes a long way. They will be young for a short time, but they will be your children forever. Plan accordingly.