nancy williams

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Who’s in Charge?

Posted by NancyWilliams on March 7, 2011

My son and I stood there together, looking around at the apartment that would be his new home.

“I think this will work out fine for you,” I said confidently. “We can put your table and chairs in that corner and your television across the room. Then we can place your desk right here and set the other things around. I have a couple of lamps that will be perfect in here. Then in the kitchen, I think we’ll take those curtains down and get something more suited for you. It won’t take us long at all to have this place looking great.”

I fluttered around the apartment, planning the details of how we would set things up for his first place on his own when I glanced over and saw the look on his face. You may know that look. It’s the I-don’t-mean-any-disrespect-but-I-have-my-own-ideas glance that told me I had stepped over the line. After all, it was his new place and he was in charge, not me.

But I’m the one with the decorating sense, I thought as I quickly came to my defense. I know what will work best, and I can save him time and energy if he’ll just take my advice.

Once again, I needed to remember that while I may have ideas about how things should be for my children, they have their own ideas as well. I had to take off my mother-knows-best hat and step back as he took the lead in determining how he wanted to set up his new home.

That afternoon, it was about decorating an apartment so it was not too difficult to set aside my ideas, follow his lead, and wait until he asked for my advice. Other times however, it’s tougher for me to let go of that tendency to tell my adult children what they need to do. Especially when I’m concerned about the consequences of the choices they are making.

My desire to protect wrestles with my understanding that they need to be in control of their lives. I want to caution them about possible pitfalls, but I don’t want them to think I don’t have confidence in their ability to manage their lives. And yet, so much of what I’ve learned has come from my own experiences, and they need the opportunity to learn from theirs.

As parents we need to be able to share our ideas, suggestions and concerns without pressuring, threatening, demanding or demeaning. After all, we’ve told them they are adults now and responsible for their choices, and we want them to take charge of their lives, right?

So, we need to learn how to communicate in a way that is respectful and suggestive but not directive. Sometimes that means being quiet and accepting they may not ask for our advice. Other times it means learning how to share our concerns respectfully, as information for them to consider, with the acknowledgment that they are ultimately in charge.

Our role is shifting from a parent who leads to a parent who comes alongside to share wisdom, to offer advice if asked, to encourage, and to empower our children to make the best choices they can for their lives—for their sake and for ours.


How do you manage those conversations with your own children? What tips about giving advice and expressing opinions would you share with other parents?

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