Families function in a variety of ways. Their paradigms and actions based on those paradigms are unique and individual to each family. Some parents strive to be the “best friend” while others are completely authoritarian. In every case, though, the way in which parents raise their children will have a profound and lasting affect on the belief systems of the child. In many cases these belief systems carry on with the child into adulthood, marriage, and the raising of their own children. It makes sense, then, for a parent to have the desire to raise their children in a healthy way that will allow them to be independent and make their own smart decisions based on what the parent has taught them.
Problems arise when the parents decide that they ultimately know best. They arise when parents decide to hold on to the idea of “I know best” for just a little too long. Suffice it to say, we all know someone (or someones) who still have to consult with mom or dad on every. single. decision. What they say is right – no matter how old you are, how far away you live, or what sort of relationship you’re in. You feel the need to consult them on everything and anything. In essence, this is what we call an enmeshed family – and it’s never good. Never.
In the LDS Church, one of the most famous verses of scripture is 1 Nephi 1:1 from The Book of Mormon. Nearly every member of the church knows it by heart, and it’s the greatest opening to scripture ever written. It reads:
I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.
While a discussion of just this single verse could last about an hour, there’s a phrase in particular that I’d like to point out. In scripture, the word “therefore” is a connector. It is basically an If-Then statement in one word. It shows the cause and effect. So when Nephi says that he was born of “goodly parents” and he was therefore taught “somewhat” in all the learning of his father, what indication does this give about good parenting? Yeah- good parents don’t try and dictate your every move or teach you every. single. thing. They teach you just enough so that you can learn to discover things on your own and make your own connections.
Sometimes this means that, as a parent, you have to be a little tough. Supporting your children is essential, but keeping them in a safety net and welcoming them back with open arms is not always the healthiest option. Let the birds fly free.
There have been a lot of articles coming out lately about the affect of parents supporting their children who are into their 20s. (Like this study, this list of advice for parents, and this blunt letter from a 20-something.) And you know what they all agree on? It’s not a good idea.
If you are constantly the safety net for your kids, you’re going to do a couple things.
- Teach them to be afraid of failure
- Teach them that having money and things = happiness
- Avoid teaching them what it means to be self-sufficient and
- that “independence” means being able to do, buy, and have whatever you want.
That isn’t real life. Wanting to provide for your kids and help them make good decisions is good – natural, in fact. But by keeping them on a leash and having to put your two-cents into everything you are hurting a lot more than you’re helping.
This protective parenting isn’t an issue just when it comes to money. Closed family boundaries are also becoming an issue when it comes to personal preferences and choices, as well. I recently had a conversation with some friends who are heading out on a study abroad over the summer, and I was shocked to find that they weren’t even going somewhere they were interested in. It was just a place that their parents had approved of. I’m sorry – what? Nononononono. Since when – even if they’re going to pay for some of it – is it okay for your parents to decide where you’re going to enhance your global education? They’re going to tell you how to go about having your own adventure? Then it’s not really your own, is it? (Also they definitely shouldn’t be paying for all of it. So. )
Being able to make your own choices and see how they play out is a vital part of life. Being able to fail and learn from your own mistake instead of living a life of baby-bumpers is how you discover yourself and what you’re capable of. Don’t become so afraid of life that you don’t live. And don’t take away those valuable experiences from your own kids. Breaking out of an enmeshed family is hard, and working towards un-meshing an entire family can be even harder. LDS families are known for struggling with this, but Lehi’s example of allowing his children to learn on their own and go their own way is so important that it’s presented in the first verse of the book that is the keystone of our religion.
Parents have become, in my mind, too focused on creating a perfect life for their children as opposed to a real one. This trend is not sustainable. So let’s just end it now.