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What Scares Me Most About My Son

I happen to be mother to the smartest kid in the whole, wide world. Yep, my 13-year-old son, Cole, knows every freaking thing and is not afraid to tell me so. He also won’t hesitate to tell me what’s wrong with Big Government, design flaws in high-dollar European automobiles and my numerous parenting foibles, the last of which makes me so happy.

It is, actually, that headstrong attitude that simultaneously makes me proud and scares the hell out of me. Why? Because I know someday, probably sooner than I want or am ready for, he’ll come home from college, the military or a year spent driving on the Autobahn and be his own man. I’ve watched it happen to children of co-workers, friends and family—most recently my sister.

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My sister raised two great boys, struggling most of those years as a single mother. Now in their late teens and early 20s, the oldest has decided he doesn’t believe in God, something that has caused a great deal of consternation for his devoutly Christian mother.

I mentioned this to my friend Dr. Janet Taylor, a psychiatrist who put it all into perspective for me.

“Parenting a child with an independent point of view can be a blessing," she said. "Kids need to be able to form their own opinions and express them. Parents should listen to their kids, encourage them to expand or even defend their point of view, and support their ability to think outside of the box. Use the opportunity to model tolerance and listening to understand.”

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Use the opportunity to model tolerance and listening to understand: that sounds perfect and makes great sense. Besides, that’s what we would want and expect them to do for us, right? So then why do we freak out when they come home with a different belief system, and how can we stop losing it when that happens? It will help if you keep these three things in mind:

1. Remember our primary job: Yes I know, you labored for 37 hours, delivered with no anesthesia and all before the real work of the next 18 years got under way. The least that kid could do is agree with you! But we need to remember that one of our primary jobs as parents is to prepare our kids for life outside of our front door. That means empowering them to use the critical thinking skills we’ve been trying to instill in them since they were small children. It’s not fair to ask them to use those skills only on things like not putting empty milk cartons back in the fridge.

2. Be a safety net, not a safety harness: This is one of the big pillars of my parenting. I see myself as a safety net that will be there when my kids fall, as opposed to a safety harness that holds them in place, preventing missteps. It’s important that they try and, in some cases, fail. We have to remember that failure can be a powerful teaching tool. How else will they hit on what works if they don’t know what doesn’t? I’m not saying lack of religion is a failure, but in my nephew’s case, it’s a journey that only he can take.

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3. Let them live their own lives: Isn’t that what this is about, ultimately? As parents, we have to understand that our kids are making decisions for their own lives, not because they are a reflection of us. This is precisely where many parents get into trouble. We, in our narcissism (and yes, I think there’s a bit of this at play), want our children to be miniature versions of us. After all, what’s more flattering than that? But it’s not fair or realistic to ask them to be independent and then yank the leash when they try to run.

I try to remind myself that this isn’t really so much about our kids rejecting us. It’s more about them figuring out what works for them so they can care for themselves when they’re out of the house. And isn’t that what we want? Yes. Yes it is.

In my case, not right away, but someday soon I will be doing the happy dance as Cole puts what I have taught him to good use as he pulls out of the driveway in his high-dollar European automobile. The one he helped design.

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