Fast forward to our current, teen-aged years and I am watching a similar scene unfolding. This time, however, it's my own ducklings taking the plunge from the nest. And trust me, I've been holding my breathe and praying like never before!
My kids have been to summer camp several years in a row, but for the first time I left my daughter as a worker this year. I'm not sure why that was an emotional moment for me, but it caught me off guard. I had been trying to pray over her before I left, and when my words became choked by tears, I hugged her fiercely, told her I loved her, then put on my sunglasses so I wouldn't embarrass her. Then we both laughed and I left my baby girl standing there, ready for her first duty. And don't even get me started when, the week after that, I watched her board a plane, alone, to go visit a friend in Boston for three weeks. She's my duckling that cannot wait to plunge from the nest and explore the world out there!
Then there's my first born, my oldest son. He started working part time this summer. Although he's been hesitant about it, he's started driving, too. This next school year will be his 11th grade year, and the blessed hope of graduation is actually within sight! Unlike his sister, however, he's my duckling that will have to be nudged out of the nest. Actually, shoved might be more accurate.
All these events have caused me to stop and think about the quickly approaching phase of having an empty nest. On rough days of parenting in the trenches, my husband and I have joking consoled each other with: "you know, one of these days they will move out!" Though we joke about it from time to time, the truth is we both know one day the house WILL be quiet (and stay clean) and we will long for these days again. Of course, it is our responsibility to help our children transition into the adult world. This can be especially challenging for homechool parents as we transition from making decisions for them (and being relatively in control of most things) to giving them increasingly more independence and responsibility.
With that in mind, here are a few ideas to give wings for both your "early jumpers" and your "reluctant plungers":
SUMMER CAMP - More specifically, the kind where they spend the night. If cost is not prohibitive, this is a great option. They are responsible for getting to certain places at certain times, taking care of themselves and their belonging, and learning to deal with situations/people they might not necessarily like. For early jumpers, this can be a safe place for them to experience a measure of freedom, grow spiritually (Christian camp), make friends, and learn leadership skills. For the reluctant plunger, it's also a safe place for them to be "on your own", yet provides the security of a controlled environment with trusted adults other than mom and dad.
CHURCH - This may sound strange, or perhaps you're already doing this and didn't realize the benefit. For quite a while now, my children have had the freedom to sit wherever they choose, as long as behavior isn't a problem. This is a big deal for younger kids. For older ones, see if there is a place where they can serve. One of mine helps run sound at our church. One helps with communion and another with the offering. All have helped with childcare, running VBS stations, and the like. Not only do these small roles give them responsibility, which helps build confidence, but it also teaches them to serve the church body. If your local church doesn't allow these opportunities, seek out volunteer work where kids can have a similar experience.
EMPLOYMENT - There's nothing that promotes (or encourages) a little freedom like a paycheck! It's good to learn at a young age to arrive on time, work with integrity, and go above and beyond what's expected of you. It's also good if they learn the consequences of not doing so. As parents, we need to transition our children to be accountable for their actions to someone else. Especially someone who aren't tempted to "bend" the rules/deadlines/expectations. Money management skills are crucial at this time as well.
One of the worst mistakes parents can make is to let their children remain children. I'm not advocating child labor factories or forcing them to move out the day they turn 18! What I do mean, though, is parenting that does not allow children to feel the painful consequences of wrong actions/choices, and parents that do not expect their children to make a contribution at home. I'm assuming that most of you have your children helping out with chores around the house, doing their own laundry, and other age appropriate things to help out. If not, that's the first place to start!
I'd love for YOU to add to my list above by leaving a comment below! What experiences, big or small, have you encountered that helped give your children wings to fly? Let's get a conversation started!