She called it the phenomenon of “planning funerals that won’t happen today”: her oldest child, his first driver’s license fresh from the printer, announced that the whole brood was eager for a “kids only” outing. Mom’s gut reaction: “In my mind, pictures started flashing of a terrible accident, a phone call from the police, planning a funeral and then thinking back to this moment when I could have said No. And it was that strange sense that everything depended on me and the decisions that made me want to say:
No. Absolutely not. You will stay home today. You will all stay home forever. I have to keep you safe.”
In this case, Mom gritted her inner teeth and—with much anxiety and prayer—said Yes. And, of course, everyone returned safe and sound. But most parents can identify with the terror of realizing a child has reached a new milestone of independence when you weren’t looking—and with the temptation to cry out, “You’re my baby, and my personal protection is the only thing standing between you and a horrible fate.”
Sometimes, the real horrible fate is that Mom makes a habit of actually acting on that temptation, and the kid remains permanently dependent, still unwilling to look for a job or live independently by age fifty-five.
So what should you do—besides force yourself to say Yes—when your intellect says, “They’re ready,” but your emotions cry out, “What if?!”
Like the stereotypical budgeting amateur thrown into a tailspin by, “Christmas and its expenses are in December this year?!,” parents would be caught off guard less often if they avoided “things are fine today, and they’ll always be just like this” complacency. One way to guard against it: integrate “getting bigger” traditions into milestone celebrations. Give birthday gifts that automatically confer new privileges. Turn the assigning of lawn-care chores into a special new-responsibilities ceremony. Invite the new driver to take the whole family out, on an agenda of her choice, right after receiving the license.
Make regular time to chat with your kids about their interests, dreams, and expectations. (Share yours, too.) If they mention something that sounds crazy or frightening, ask questions to help them visualize how they would go about it and what starter steps they could take right now. It may calm you down to realize they already understand some of the risks; at any rate, a dream planned for is a dream safer (and more likely) achieved.
Every life has its share of bad-news surprises, child-related and otherwise. You’ll live a happier life, as well as being a more effective parent, if you regularly practice: