Today I've got a question for all the experienced parents out there. It's simply this: How do you do it?
Granted, that covers a lot of ground, so let me be a bit more specific. How can you be a good, involved and watchful parent while also letting your children grow, develop and learn from their own experiences?
I've struggled with this question quite a bit lately. The biggest cause for my consternation is probably that my oldest daughter is now a 17-year-old high school senior who drives herself (and others) to school, has a job, has a boyfriend (yikes!) and is starting to apply to colleges.
At the same time, my almost 15-year-old second daughter is a freshman, and my youngest daughter is 13. Yes, I'm living with three teenage girls. Pray for me.
I can't actually complain. All of my children — the three girls and my 9-year-old son — are pretty amazing. They work hard in school, and, aside from a few arguments here and there, they get along fairly well.
I'm blessed to be the father to these four incredible individuals, and I've tried to be the type of dad who sets a good example. My wife is the primary caregiver at our house, and they couldn't have a better mother. But I've tried to show them what it means to work hard and be dedicated to one's career while also shouldering my share of the chores at home and being a fun, caring, involved parent.
Now that they're growing older, I'm starting to get some inclination of whether my efforts have been successful. Especially with my oldest, I feel like a teacher who is approaching the end of the school year, wondering whether he has shared enough knowledge and covered the right topics to allow his prize student to pass a major test.
For example, we've tried to teach our children to take responsibility for themselves, their decisions and their actions. My oldest daughter definitely understands that. I think she was born with a natural inclination toward responsibility, but I hope my wife and I can take some credit for helping to nurture that and other positive traits.
I remember a few years ago, when she was struggling to get along with her youngest sister, talking to my oldest about how little time she had left living in the same home with her siblings. I asked her to think about that and consider the kind of relationship she wanted to develop with them in her remaining years as a full-time resident of our house.
She took that discussion to heart, and she is an incredible example and friend to her sisters and brother. She has taken the time and made the effort to develop individual relationships with each of them, and it warms my heart to see them talk and laugh together.
I've also tried to teach her, by example and through conversation, that it's important to find balance in life. She has an almost impossibly busy schedule, with challenging courses in school, participation in theater productions, a part-time job and her active social life.
I'm glad to see that she still finds time for her family and herself. She focuses on what she loves, like listening to music or reading. And she tries not to neglect that favorite teenage hobby of sleeping late whenever possible.
It seems she has learned many lessons we've tried to teach her. But at the same time, some of her growing independence is hard for me to handle.
For instance, she drives my car more than I do these days, shuttling herself, her sister and a few friends to school in the morning and to other activities during the day. While it's wonderful to have another driver in the family to help with those errands, it also scares me sometimes to think of her out on the roads without me in the car.
What freaks me out even more is the thought of her leaving for college. She's starting to apply to schools now, and as I've written before, she has her heart set on attending Brigham Young University in Provo. She's truly focused on this goal and has worked hard to be worthy of admission. I'm excited about her prospects for success.
But even though her departure for college is almost a year away, I find that I'm already missing her. She's grown into such a wise, quirky, fun person that I can't imagine not having her around the house.
I also wonder whether I've done enough to help her deal with the setbacks that no one can avoid in life. My wife and I have tried to teach and model this as we've dealt with our own challenges, but it's impossible to know whether we've succeeded. My daughter has kept her chin up and moved forward despite the disappointments she has faced so far, so I'm hopeful.
The bottom line, I guess, is that parenting doesn't get any easier as our children get older. The challenges simply change from diapers and daycare to cars and college.
So I'm asking you, dear readers, for advice. What did you do to teach your children about life, balance and maturity? What worked, and what didn't? How closely have they followed your example, good or bad? And how have you managed to nurture them, educate them and then let them go?
Please send me an email or leave a comment online with your ideas, and I'll share some of them in a future column — after I use the best ones myself.