by Sami Yacoub

Part of When Children Choose Series:

When Children Choose 1                          When Children Choose 2

When Children Choose 3                          When Children Choose 4

Who of us does not enjoy seeing their children excel and grow into independent personalities. However this does mean that our authority over them decreases and the nature of the parental responsibility over their behavior and choices changes as well. 


In reality, our children’s transitions out of student life and into adulthood and work life represent a turning point in our relationships with them. We see their desire to become independent from the family, at least financially, increases dramatically. Suddenly some of the topics they used to enjoy discussing with us are filed under “Top Secret.” For example: when will they choose their life partner, and what are their characteristics? That is an area we dare not approach. Will they continue their studies into higher education or not? This is an extremely personal subject. Anything along the same lines of asking about futuristic choices or decisions could, to them, represent an unfathomable intrusion from their parents.  


Anyway, I believe that regardless of the features of independence that suddenly appear in the family life, it do not mean that children are not in need of the support parents can offer during this phase or that they will not benefit from the advice of a father who has a comprehensive familiarity with life and a mother who, although has a simple and open attitude, also has a flood of experiences she has gained through struggles she faced in her days. At the same time, most children’s reluctance to listen to their parents is a phase resulting from the change in enforcing parental authority as the relationship reaches the point where it must take the form of a friendship rather than the dynamic of the older and wiser dealing with the younger and less-experienced. I still remember what my aunt used to say, “If your son grows, treat him as a brother.”


 Dr. James Dobson, well-renowned psychologist in parenting, wrote about the phenomenon of children separating from their parents in this transitional phase in their lives. He encourages and comforts us saying that this separation is temporary and that our children, who we have spent our whole lives concerned with raising, must return afterwards to the warm relationship with us and with their siblings. Dr. James Dobson compares this phase to early attempts to explore space, and how it was surrounded with dangers, especially when the spaceship penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere where the friction raises the temperature up to 450 degrees Celsius. If a small mistake were made in the angle of penetration, the astronauts on board would immediately be turned into ashes. Additionally, communication with the spaceship is cut off during its passing the atmosphere for what could last up to seven minutes. As everyone anxiously awaits the astronauts to communicate, the silence is broken by a voice saying: “We have crossed, and everything is okay!” This is the same thing that happens to our children when the spaceship of independence takes them far away from us and communication is dissolved (likely for longer than seven minutes), but the communication will definitely return and the spaceship of their lives will land once again on their relationship with their parents. This is when parents and children move to a new and beautiful phase of their lives marked with mutual understanding.


And now how can we cope with children in this time of temporary silence and isolation? Like any father, I wonder about this question repeatedly, and because I do not want to lose my sons or disturb them, I do my best to train myself to give them advice as friends and in a way that helps them see the other point of view to what they are thinking about. This allows them to find the middle ground between my advice and their personal perspectives before they choose.


When we accept as parents the fact that the nature of our roles and responsibilities have changed with the maturity of our children, we must stop and think before we react impulsively towards what they choose for their lives and refuse discussion or lecture them on what we think is best. One of the best ways of keeping communications channels open with our children is listening carefully to what they say as they undoubtedly have details about circumstances and reasons of which we are not aware that brought them to these conclusions we do not see fit. That is why listening to them enforces the continuity of our love and respect for them and the persons they have become. It protects us from negativity and consequences of jumping to conclusions.


We must also note that our initial tone of voice in any discussion with our children will determine the direction of the conversation and whether or not it is a heated one. What helps adults avoid heated discussions or throwing blame is our internal conviction that the conversation springs from our care for our children’s futures, not to prove deficient their thinking or choices which may help you win the discussion but will cause you to lose the person…the worst victory in one of the most holy wars of life!


Children do not respond well to ending a conversation with warnings or threats. What really encourages them to consider their opinion and to come back to you for other advice is their feeling that the final decision is theirs. It may be best to end a discussion with something like: “If I were you, this is what I would do. But ultimately you are the one who can decide what is best for your future.” How many times have you asked a partner or coworker, a neighbor or a friend, to take time to ponder an issue on which you disagree? Would you not do the same for your son or daughter when your points of view do not align, especially if this choice has long-term consequences?


The apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of balance when conversing with children between demanding their respect and not angering or taking them lightly (Ephesians 6:1-2). The words of the prophet Ezekiel, however, awaken in me a special feeling of fear which prompts me to motivate every parent not to let go of their responsibility: “The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them” (Ezekiel 18:20). Do you not agree that regardless of how smart and strong-willed our children are, and no matter what they have achieved in academic and career successes, that the family is their final sanctuary?

To be continued next time…

Copyright © 2012 Focus on the Family Middle East. All rights reserved. Originally published in Watani Paper 19.8.2012.

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