Parents will tell you it happens so quickly. One day, you’re holding a tiny child in your arms. Then, in what seems like moments, they’re preparing to walk across a stage and begin life as an adult. No matter how many times we may have dreamed of that moment, its arrival creates a flood of challenging emotions.

We want our children to become happy, successful, and independent adults, and we’re proud of who they’ve become, but we’re also reluctant to let go of what little control we have over their lives. When they were little, we were the experts they turned to for everything from a skinned knee to tough math homework to a dispute with their BFF. When they were sick, scared, or simply confused, they rushed to the protection of our arms. And now it seems like they no longer need to have us around.

There’s a timeless saying that the two most important things you can give your children are roots … and wings. It isn’t easy to prepare your senior to take flight from the family’s nest, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to ensure a successful launch and strengthen your relationship with them.

The reality is your child will always need your love, your affection, your confidence, your trust, and yes, even your advice, even if they’re not ready to admit it. How you prepare them for that launch into the world will set the tone for how the two of you interact for the rest of your lives together.

As they’re about to get a taste of independence, one of the most important things you can do is create safe boundaries for them. Boundaries are like guard rails for the directions in which they’ll travel. Your purpose isn’t to prevent them from becoming independent, but to give them safe spaces in which they can test themselves and try new things. That’s especially true if they’re going to continue to live at home while they continue their education or try to stand on their own two feet. They’re still your child, and if they’re going to live under your roof for at least part of them, it will help for both of you to know what is — and isn’t — acceptable.

For example, you may have given them strict curfews in their teens, and they’ll bristle if you continue to demand they return home by midnight. Instead, give them guidance that will also give you peace of mind. “If you’re not planning to come home some evening, let us know before we go to bed, so we won’t sit up worrying about you. If you’re going to drink with your friends, don’t get behind the wheel or ride with someone who’s intoxicated. Call us instead. We don’t want to restrict you, but we want you to get home safely.” They’ll understand you’re giving them room to try new things in safe ways while respecting your concerns.

No matter how well-behaved they’ve been, they’re going to make mistakes. We did, and so did you. It’s an important part of growing up, because we all learn from those mistakes. So give them the space to make their own mistakes and resist the urge to respond with “I told you so!” (Did you ever appreciate hearing those comments from your own parents or the other adults in your life?)

They’re going to fall down along the way. Maybe they’ll fail a college class, suffer a heartbreaking end to a relationship, or even find themselves in handcuffs after making a poor decision. Let them fall, but provide a place where they can fall softly. Let them know home is the place where they can come from support. You may not be happy about what they did, and you may not excuse their behavior, but make sure they know they’re still loved.

Most important, don’t make the mistake of volunteering advice about what they should do. As parents, we’ve experienced a lot, and we may recognize that moving in with their buddies is a recipe for disaster. Advice that’s unsolicited is rarely appreciated, even when it’s wise. If you don’t force advice upon them, you’ll discover that they’ll start reaching out to ask for it. Now, understand they may not use your suggestions, but their asking for them proves they trust and respect you. The older they get, they’ll smarter you’ll become in their eyes.

Struggling to let your senior go? Consider spending some time with one of our professional counselors. We’ll help you understand just how normal those feelings can be, and we’ll be able to teach you ways to redirect your concerns and energies in positive ways that will help you be a better parent and maybe even a lifelong friend. Call us today.

Podcasts that help:

What teens wish their parents knew

When your kids aren’t kids anymore but are still your kids

Preparing your kids to launch financially

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