One of the craziest (but most beneficial) parenting conversations my husband and I ever had happened when our eldest was just six months old. (You can tell how much of an impact it had by how clearly I can still remember it seventeen years later!)
We were sitting in a Tim Horton’s in Mississauga a few blocks from our house with our baby in my arms when Trevor said ‘you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that we need to raise this child to be a fully independent adult by the time they’re 18’.
And I thought, ‘yep … I guess … but that’s a long time from now!’
Then he added, ‘so that means that by nine they need to be halfway to being an adult’.
‘Okay … still a long time from now!’ (I think I was at the stage of new parenting where you feel like bedtime is a long time from now for your sleep addled brain, so this is really no surprise.)
But he persisted, ‘so that means that by four and a half they need to be a quarter of the way to being an adult, and by two and a quarter they need to be an eighth of the way to being an adult …’
And it started to dawn on me what he was really saying:
If we were going to do a good job as parents, we needed to have a goal, and we needed to be intentional about how our actions today were helping us to get to our goal – especially because the goal was so far off!
Well, it’s now been about 17 years since that conversation, and our eldest is getting ready to take flight this summer. The deposit has been paid for their top university choice. A residence application has been filled in. And we’re busy trying to tick off the final boxes to prepare them for life in the big wide world.
It’s time to see how well we’ve done – time for the ‘big reveal’!
When we first started on this journey I promise you that we knew basically nothing. I was just barely 21. Trevor was 24 (and possibly even more clueless about basic things like diaper changing than I was).
But what we did know was what our goal was: we knew that we wanted to raise kids who held certain values, who knew certain skills, who understood themselves and the world around them well, and who knew how to navigate both the current systems they lived within as well as whatever new systems and technologies and social changes might come their way as they went through their adult life.
Our earliest attempts at figuring out how to do this were very haphazard, and had at least as many misses as successes. My first strategy was to look at what my kids could do and try to figure out what the ‘next’ step might be and then try to encourage them to do that (with admittedly mixed results). But my uncertainties and lack of knowledge meant I was limited in my abilities – prone to the dreaded duo of shame and anger – the moment things didn’t work.
It took years to discover that part of those mixed results came in part from the fact that my kids were both on the autism spectrum, but with that information in hand it actually became far easier to develop parenting plans that would allow us to approach the challenges of raising adults well.
So eventually – between books and the internet and community resources and conversations with older, wiser folks and deeply supportive friends – we started to pull together some cohesive plans and strategies to help us figure out what skills and abilities our kids needed to develop at each stage in the game to be able to arrive at eighteen ready to face the world.
We found ways to make those plans and strategies flexible enough to be realistic in the face of our children’s scattered developmental skills, as we realized that there was, for example, no inherent reason why putting on your own shoes had to come before learning to read.
We found ways to expand from the standard list of ‘tasks’ to teach a child to creating intentionality about their hearts, souls, minds and bodies.
And we also eventually came to realize that although it was important for us to teach these skills to our kids, it was possibly more important for us to create a calm, peaceful atmosphere for our kids to learn these skills in.
Because it turns out that you can’t learn if you’re anxious or afraid.
So that meant that it wasn’t just enough to have a plan or to make the plan flexible – we also needed to figure out how to incorporate appropriate attachment strategies in to each level of development so that we could more effectively work together to achieve our goals.
So with all that as our background, over the month of May I want to talk about some coaching questions and useful tools you can use to come up with a realistic plan to help your unique child get from wherever they are today, to ‘ready to go out and tackle life in the real world’. As always, these are works in progress, and I’d love to hear your feedback about them so that I can tweak them to make them better.