One of the adjustments that parents need to make as our children grow into young adults is the issue of independence. Independence is appropriate in some contexts and yet, it is an attitude that damages relationships in other contexts. As a parent we need to navigate the waters and help our children grow in independence and yet not be independent.
An independent person doesn’t need anyone – an island. This is not consistent with God’s creation – he made man and it was not good for him to be alone. Now, I’m not suggesting our children need to be married young – but we are made for community, we need our fellow-man. Family, Church, Marriage – these are community words, and reflect God’s heart for relationships. That being said, we are also made as individuals with individual responsibilities.
Maybe a word for us to consider is autonomy – which is to do with self-governing. To be honest, our children are growing towards autonomy (self-governing, personal responsibility) since they were toddlers. It is our goal as a family – to be autonomous and yet live in community (aka, family). But what does this look like? If you are a young family you have time to consider how to grow your family where you find this balance; if you are a family with teens, then you probably have more influence from society affecting your thoughts, and the thoughts of your teenagers. Now is a good time to think about how you can live as a family with members being autonomous and yet involved in family life.
Mostly we see adult children taking one of two paths
1-Independence – where they move away from home, they create a separate life to their family, eventually sharing very little of their lives together
2-Dependence – where they never move away from home, mum still does everything for them, and they don’t have any personal responsibilities or passions.
I do believe there is another choice. As our children have grown, Peter and I have grown in our understanding of family life and finding this balance. I don’t believe that independence is helpful for community – whether we are talking marriage, or being accountable as a Christian, or a valuable employee. A lone ranger, an island, a loose cannon – these are people who don’t need anyone else. So as we have gone along I have seen three different models of family that expresses community and individual responsibility – but only one of these models is healthy.
Independent Family: I see families where everyone is standing in a circle – the nature of being a family holds them together. They are facing outwards – everyone facing their individual responsibilities, passions, vision, purposes etc (aka life). They are a family unit but there is no interaction, no support between each member. Each person is independent, each going their own way – though they never forget that they are a family by birth they aren’t a part of each other’s life.
Co-dependent Family: I see families where everyone is standing in a circle – once again they are held together by being a family. The difference this time is everyone is facing inwards, holding hands. They support each other, they are there for each other, but there is only one common vision, passion, purpose etc. They work on this together; there is support there, but there is no individual, no individual responsibility, there is only the family.
Interdependent Family – I see the family standing in a circle, with their backs to each other but arms linked. They are a family unit, but they each have their own individual responsibilities, passions, vision, purposes etc. They need each other, and they are there for each other, involved in each other’s lives, and yet involved in their own life as well. There is independence, that is they are free to walk in personal responsibility, and yet there is community – a need to love others, and be loved by others.
Of course, every analogy has its weaknesses – but if we can see this picture as a goal, we can grow with our children. I have a sneaky suspicion that the interdependent family started out as holding hands facing inwards when everyone was little – and it is as each member grows in maturity and responsibility that they turn around and face outwards as their world expands. But how you paint that picture I don’t know!!
To grow towards being an interdependent family, parents need to let go of their authority. Actually parents should be letting go from around the age of 13. As our kids start making moral choices, from their own heart, my influence with them comes because of our relationship, not because I am the Mother (capital M!) I can no longer pull rank on them, instead I need to communicate that I am here for them, that I want them to succeed, that we are in life together and I will take the coaching role. Once they are equipped with moral-know-how they need to live it, they need to make personal choices – taking personal responsibility for various aspects of their life. This doesn’t happen all at once, it is a gradual process but once they are adults, they should be responsible for all the spheres of their life.
It is important to us that our children are well developed in who they are as an individual – their personhood is shaped by the talents, interests, responsibilities and opportunities that God gives them. My adult children are different than me; they have different passions and visions, different skills and ideas. And yet we are still family. When my children were younger, my vision and purpose created opportunities to teach and train my kids – for example, they would run kids clubs and babysit as we helped parents grow in their own parenting. But these days, the kids are expanding their world, they are finding passions and purposes of their own, separate to the family discipleship that is my passion. I am all for them investing their time, energies and money into the things God puts on their heart. They continue to support me, but it looks different. This is why an interdependent family have arms linked – our hands are still free to do the things that God puts in front of us. But the linked arms give us a support base to work with.
To live in an interdependent family is counter-cultural. It isn’t the norm – but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. I delight in my adult children living at home (and they may well move out any time!) They are contributors to the cost of living together, they are involved in the ebb and flow of family life, they are invested in each individual’s lives (and that includes Peter’s and mine). They have the opportunity to live their lives, to be responsible with the skills, possessions, time and energy that God has given them. They build relationships separate to any relationships that the family group have, they get involved in causes that make their heart beat, they come and go as they need, they do whatever it takes to look after their responsibilities and live life with the community they have been given.
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