My wife and I decided early in our marriage that one of our most important responsibilities as parents was preparing our children for the day when they leave home and live on their own. Enabling them to be ready to make important decisions for themselves. Knowing how to react in stressful or dangerous situations. Effectively managing their own money. The list goes on and on. But the way we mentally visualized this parenting challenge with the “giving more rope” analogy.
Imagine that when your child is young, there is only a very short rope between you and them. What does this mean? As they drift from side to side (ie – doing things that are wrong or dangerous), the rope is so short that the parent can immediately correct (warn, explain, scold, punish).
The other benefit of the rope being so short is that the consequences of the child’s action are limited. Even something like touching a hot stove might seem catastrophic at the time, but in a short few years you’ll realize that a blister on a finger is nothing compared to potential consequences you’ll be worried about later when they’re a teenager. Again, a short rope yields opportunity for quick correction and limited consequences.
Progressively Giving More Rope
As the child ages, imagine progressively giving them more rope. They can swing further to the side before parental correction, but the consequences of their action are greater than before with the shorter rope. This means that wider variations within the range of their control translate to a wider range of their decision-making responsibility and an increased opportunity to learn from mistakes.
The evolution of this carries into high school for things like dating, alcohol/drug experimentation, driving a car, and plenty of other young adult issues that are presented to the teenager. This is also when it starts getting more scary for the parent. To our way of thinking, rather than micro-managing their decisions, the right thing to do was continue to give more rope to our daughters.
Yes, this meant the consequences of any bad decisions could be really serious. But we regularly reminded ourselves of our ultimate objective. We were trying to ensure that our daughters were as prepared as possible when they packed up their car and drove off to college to live on their own and be required to make tons of important decisions on their own.
Since we could easily predict the types of challenges and issues they would face while on their own, we actually wanted them to be exposed to some of them (or milder versions of them) while there was still at least some rope attached (ie – still living under our roof).
Continuing with the metaphor, on the day they moved out of our house, we imagined letting go of the last remaining inches of rope and handing it all to our daughter. In our mind, we were effectively saying “We’ve given you all the tools we could think of so that you’re ready to make your own decisions. Make them wisely and make us proud.”
Not a Secret
We actually explained this analogy to our girls when they were about 12 years old and again then they were about 15. Actually, there were probably times in between, and later, that we briefly mentioned the “rope” as part of our advice or punishment. We wanted our girls to know the philosophy and our support for making their own decisions while they were still living under our roof.
This parenting principle is greatly complemented by the “What’s The Worst Thing That Could Happen” concept described in another post.
See my other blog posts on parenting here.