From diapers to diploma, raising a healthy, happy, responsible young adult is the goal of parenting. Though the journey from dependence to independence is gradual, it seems to go by so quickly. She learns to tie her shoes one day. Then, before you know it, you hear the garage door opening and the roar of independence. She waves goodbye and either heads off to college or gets her own apartment.
How can you know if you've done enough to prepare her for life away from home? When and how do you let go? Simply put, you graduate.
Give her adult responsibilities. Adolescence should be the training ground for practical life skills. Help your teen open a checking account and teach her the basic principles of money management. If she has her own car and a job, have her pay for her own car insurance, gas and maintenance. This will take the financial pressure off you, and she'll learn that privilege comes with responsibility. You might even deposit money in her account and let her write the checks to pay the household bills for a month or two.
Remind her that she is ready. You've taught her your family values. You've disciplined her, and you've protected her physically, spiritually and emotionally. Now it's time for her to stand on the foundation you've laid. Increased independence will build her confidence.
Ask questions, and listen to her heart. Now is the time when childhood dreams begin to blossom. Celebrate her unique qualities, gifts and talents. Hold your own expectations in check, and let your young adult paint the picture of her future.
Demand respect. At some point, your teen may think that independence means she no longer needs to answer to you, especially about letting you know where she is or when she's going to be home. The truth is, a lack of communication is disrespectful. Teach her that no matter whom she lives with — a parent, a roommate or, when she's married, her husband — it is both considerate and respectful to communicate about schedules and responsibilities.
Understand the process. In moving toward her future, your teen may take what looks like a detour from the road to success. While this can be agonizing, remember that becoming an adult is a learning experience, and nobody does it perfectly. Right now she needs a coach, not a judge. Consider enlisting a pastor or another trusted adult to help her explore her choices.
Anticipate indecision. There is a world of opportunity awaiting your young adult, and the options can be overwhelming. Don't be surprised if your high-school senior changes her mind a dozen times about what college to attend or career path to take. It may be her way of "trying on" the possibilities. Let her select some colleges to visit and make appointments with admissions counselors. Help her sort through information, but let her take the lead on decisions.
Trust God. As your child leaves home, you will no longer know where she is or what she is doing every day. Though you still feel the weight of parental responsibility, know that God is with her. Find peace in His promise to her (and you), "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).
Expect the best. With increased independence, your teen may make some choices that are unwise or even harmful. During my daughter's senior year, I often said, "You're an amazing young woman. I believe in you, and I believe in God who is with you. And, by the way, you're really bad at sin, so you should forget a career in it." That often brought a smile at an otherwise tense moment. When a teen makes a wrong decision, you can administer the appropriate discipline or allow the natural consequences to take their course — but encourage her to make wise choices that will bring positive outcomes.
As you entrust more independence to your teen, she will be better prepared to venture on her own when the time comes. And you'll see that graduation is a new day, a new season — full of hope and possibility for both of you.