ParentTip: Division of Responsibility (Or How to Do Less So Your Kid Does More)

 Photo by  Toa Heftiba  on  Unsplash

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I was having this conversation with a parent the other day about how our role changes pretty much continuously as our kids develop, and how much we have to shift the division of responsibility as they grow up. If you think about it like a big, messy pie, our share of responsibility goes from the whole dang thing as caregivers to infants to a big thick slice in the middle school years to a thin and very delicate sliver as our teens get ready to launch. The way we adapt to the shifts in the division of responsibility can influence how our kids develop the skills needed for living independently, how much we experience power struggles in our relationships with our kids, and how prepared we are for the inevitable letting go that occurs inch by inch as our kids get older.

Like development in general, changing the division of responsibility is not a linear process. It can ebb and flow along with each child's unique ability to manage increasing responsibility, and as they experience the inevitable mistakes, backslides and missteps that mark the process. How we adapt the division of responsibility is also dependent on our own willingness and ability to step back, let go, and create space for our kids to try new things that they will have to mess up a little along the way. This can be uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking, confusing and scary for parents. It also means that we're constantly having to reassess our own readiness and our kid's readiness for taking over a larger piece of the pie. 

In early childhood, we can get in a routine of "doing for" our kids in big and small ways, and it can be tough to know when the right time is to give them a little more autonomy. How much do we manage *for* our kids and how much do we manage *with* our kids? How do we get comfortable with all the discomfort this messy process uncovers? Part of what makes this so challenging is that there's no way to change up the division of responsibility without experiencing some failures and some heartaches. This is the hardest work of parenting, learning how to manage our own fears and pain as we give our kids room to skin their knees, experience loss, and get their hearts broken along the way.

Think about a time your young child made a mistake. How much did you step in to correct course for them? How much did you have to guide, manage, advise, and direct this process? Now what about with your teen? How different does it need to look in order for your teen to develop the necessary skills for living independently from you? The teen brain is wired for novelty-seeking and  risk-taking, but it's also wired for resilience and growth. The most effective way to nurture our teen's developing frontal lobe (home of all the critical thinking and executive functioning skills) is to give them plenty of room to practice, practice, practice their increasing responsibility to directly manage their own lives, and to learn how to parent from a place of collaboration & compassion as they grow. This isn't about turning our backs on them, or shutting them out, or leaving them to fend for themselves. It's about moving from the position of leading them by the hand (sometimes dragging them kicking and screaming) to walking behind them with a gentle hand raised in readiness to help steady them when they stumble. Because how will we, but more importantly they, ever know what they're really capable of until we give them room to try?

Need some guidance or support with navigating the tricky teen years? We've got you. Check out Blake & Tracy's TeenWise® Parent Coaching or our Therapy Services to find out more about how we can help. You don"t have to parent alone.