by Theresa M. Shaltanis
My daughter will graduate from high school in June. She’s a good kid, but doesn’t help much around the house. It seems I am either nagging her or picking up after her. She’ll go away to college next year, and I know I’ll miss her terribly. How do I balance the challenge of loving her now, when she is sometimes not very lovable, so that I won’t have remorse next year?
Indeed, you have a big job ahead to help your daughter transition to adulthood. The role of parents essentially is to work themselves out of a job. That means giving their children roots and wings by teaching them what is important, and letting them gradually practice responsibility and freedom so they will be ready for more independent living when the time comes. Sometimes, parents value a conflict-free relationship over one that has the limits and expectations that bring necessary growth and maturity. Allowing your daughter to not take responsibility in those tasks where she is clearly capable is not giving her what she needs. When she sees you picking up after her, she has learned that she doesn’t have to pull her own weight. You can serve her better by giving her a clearer picture of the real world, which will include roommates, professors, and bosses who will not give her a pass on her responsibilities.
You can move in a more helpful direction. While this may be a difficult step, begin by apologizing to her for not having done the job you hoped in preparing her for adulthood. Tell her you need to make some changes, since the current arrangement isn’t working for either of you. Communicate your household expectations, asking for her input about what she feels is reasonable, but be clear that you have the final say. Let her know that you want her to enjoy the privileges she has had up to this point (driving, texting, etc.), but that, by her actions, she is choosing whether or not she retains them. If she slips up, tell her the consequences in a matter-of-fact tone, and remind her she’ll have more opportunities in the future. Consistency is critical.
Balance your clear and consistent expectations with liberal reminders about why you think she’s a great daughter and how much you love her. If you’re feeling stuck, seek the help of your pastor or a Christian counselor. A good resource is Boundaries with Teens by John Townsend.
Questions for “Family Counselor” come from readers and, after steps are taken to assure confidentiality, from contacts made with Lutheran Hour Ministries. Send your questions to “Family Counselor,” The Lutheran Witness, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295. Please include your name and address.
About the Author: Theresa M. Shaltanis. M.A., L.P.C., is a marriage and family therapist and a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Falls Church, Va.