Twenty-eight-year-old Devon spends his days doing very little.
He wakens late and helps himself to breakfast from the variety of foods purchased by his parents. When he finally decides to get dressed he just has to choose from all the nicely cleaned and ironed clothing waiting in his closet. Then he pops open a beer and watches TV until his parents come home and prepare his dinner. After dinner, he borrows one of his parents' cars and heads off to party with his friends.
Devon's parents are not very happy about this state of affairs and complain to all their friends.
With Devon they drop hints. They bookmark career pages, job listings and educational opportunity pages on his computer. They ask him about his plans. They suggest jobs, school or at the very least moving out. He just ignores them These are typically the same parents who 15 years ago were happily doing everything for him. When I ask parents why they are not teaching their children the skills they will need to be independent, they tell me that it's just easier and faster to do it for them.
When I ask them if they have talked about the future with their kids, they tell me that they hope their child stays home forever. They love having him with them and can't imagine him leaving. Ever.
Children tend to meet and often exceed our expectations, and that includes low expectations as well as high ones. Parents who are not facing the fact that it is their job to help their kids be ready to leave home, to handle chores such as doing laundry, cooking and cleaning as well as earning a living, budgeting, and paying bills are simply not doing their job. When we give our kids the message that we want them to stay home, that we like doing everything for them, most are willing to comply.
And much as we think that asking them to learn how to fend for themselves is too much work, it is as important as encouraging them to take their first steps, speak their first words and read.
When I was writing my book But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home: From Toddlers to Teens, How Parents Can Raise Children to Become Capable Adults our two children and our daughter-in-law were busy renovating a house. In order to afford their first piece of real estate, they determined they needed to share. So they bought a house jointly and created two lovely suites.
They were clearly grown up and independent as well as responsible. But that didn't mean that they were gone. They simply didn't live in our home any more but we are still connected. They are and will always be our children.
In that book I decided to make a list of the basic skills kids need before they leave home. Then I passed it on to the kids. They added a few more and allowed that they couldn't do everything when they first left home (for university in their case) but were confident in their ability to learn whatever they would need.
How does that happen? It starts when they're toddlers. You let them pull on their pants. You hold the sweater while they struggle to put their arms in the sleeves.
It's a process and an important one. Each year they can do more for themselves and more to help with the running of the house. When we involve our children in all aspects of daily living we are preparing them to become capable adults and we are doing our job.
When we raise children, we are enjoined to give them roots and wings. I imagine most of us at some time have seen a poster with this message, and we believe it. Giving them roots is doing the day-to-day job of parenting. We set limits, determine consequences for misbehaviour, encourage them, have them take responsibility for decisions and love them. We also enjoy them and have fun.
But we also have to give them wings. We must prepare them to fly off on their own, to make their own way. If we have been preparing them for this step throughout their entire childhood we will know they are ready.
Sure, we'll miss them. But if we have a healthy relationship, they will visit often. And that's what is supposed to happen once they are out of high school and out of their teens.
Kathy Lynn, is a professional speaker, broadcaster, columnist and author. ParentingToday.ca