In August, Dave and I helped our youngest daughter pack her possessions into a car, drive 50 miles away, and move into a college dorm room. Launching her to college launched us into a new stage of life: the empty nest. So far the transition has been a successful one – for her and for us. And it has me looking back over the 27 years that Dave and I have been parents, looking back and seeing four distinct stages of parenting.
Stage 1 — CAREGIVER
Newborns require round-the-clock care. Feeding, changing, feeding, rocking, feeding, bathing… Parenting a baby means caregiving. Your duties as a Caregiver are to be attentive to your baby’s needs and meet them.
Caregiving can be draining. Parents in this stage have to make sure they don’t neglect their own needs and their needs as a couple.
However, if there are no developmental issues, this time-intensive stage is also the shortest stage. By age four, the typical child no longer needs a parent to help her go potty or get dressed.
Stage 2 — MANAGER
As children grow, so does their involvement with the world around them. They go to school, they play games, they make friends. They explore their interests and express their own likes and dislikes.
In this stage, parents are Managers. Parents make many decisions for their child: what food he eats, how he spends his time, and even, to a large degree, who his friends are.
Good Manager-Parents support and encourage their child’s efforts to do things for herself. They spend time with their child and enjoy her. They know her well, and take her input into account when making decisions that affect her.
And over time, they turn more and more of those decisions over to their child to pave the way for a smooth transition into the next stage.
Stage 3 — COACH
When our children become adolescents, our role changes again. Teens need parents who realize that their job is to stay on the sidelines rather than to run out onto the field and grab the ball.
Good coaches know their players. They understand their strengths and weaknesses. They structure practices and drills to help their players improve. They give a lot of encouragement and foster positive team spirit. They don’t berate players for their mistakes; they help players to analyze mistakes in order to learn from them. They realize that when the time comes, when the game is on, the player is the one on the spot who has to make the call, and they trust their players with that responsibility.
It can be difficult for parents to transition from being a hands-on Manager to being a Coach. It means that instead of enforcing a set bedtime, for example, we help our teen to figure out how much sleep he needs to function well and how he can structure his schedule so that he gets that amount of sleep fairly consistently. Remember, in this stage our goal is training them so that when they are adults, they can manage their lives well on their own.
Stage 4 — CONSULTANT
As children enter their last years of high school and start to leave the nest, the parents’ role transitions to that of a Consultant.
Consultant-Parents realize that the direction of their kids’ lives is up to them, not up to the parents. They love and support their adult children, and seek to continue to connect with them, but don’t try to manage or coach them. This is the opposite of the hovering “Helicopter Parents” who constantly check up on their adult children and shower them with unwanted advice. In this stage, we as parents learn to trust that when our kids feel that they need our input, they will come to us.
This stage isn’t too difficult for most parents when their children are thriving and making choices that parents agree with, but it can be very challenging when we see our kids struggling or making poor choices. In those times, we parents have to learn hard lessons of how to let go and trust God with our children.
As I look back on the years that Dave and I have been parents, I see that each stage of parenting had its own joys and challenges. When we were in the middle of parenting, I wasn’t always aware of the ways that my role was changing, but in hindsight I see these four stages. And I feel grateful for each one.
Question: What do you think? What stage of parenting are you in? What helps you the most at this stage? You can leave a comment by clicking here.