Dear New Hope,
My transformation from a controlling parent to a cheerleading parent began in 2016. After attending a parenting conference featuring speaker Paul Tripp, I recognized that my attempts to control the decisions of my children were driven by the fear that they would make the wrong decisions. Motivated by a deep trust in God’s ability to take care of my kids, I shifted away from the controlling, helicopter-dad and made incremental steps toward letting go of control and equipping my children with the tools for a successful launch. After all, they won’t be home forever.
I communicated that decision to my oldest daughter, Annika, age 16. I apologized for the ways I had attempted to control her and promised that I would begin to take steps to give her latitude in decision-making, be available for advice when she needs it, and allow her the freedom to fail. Three months later, my parenting transformation was so noticeable that she wrote me a note which I still have today. Dated May 8, 2016, Annika wrote:
My dad before: Everything that was even remotely risky or involved a boy of any age was answered with a big fat no.
My dad after: He began to let go of me, still protecting, but not suffocating any longer.
The launch process had begun…extra freedoms were given…less control was forced…and my daughter began to thrive.
A Launch Plan
I am a firm believer that parents need to consider a launch plan for their children. Namely, we need to be thinking early about how to move our children from dependence to independence, from the safety net of parental supervision to the success of responsible adulthood.
In a Wall Street Journal article called “Your Children Need a Launch Plan,” Sue Shellenbarger addresses some of the reasons parents neglect to plan intentionally for releasing control of their kids. She writes:
- Some parents are reluctant to think about letting go.
- Some parents who provide financial support simply enjoy keeping their children close.
- Some parents use handouts as a way of controlling their children.
As a result of this over-controlling mentality disguised as parental-nurturing, the statistics of young adults who are still at home and dependent on parents is on the rise. Shellenbarger says:
- In 2016, 1/3 of young adults ages 25-29 were living in multigenerational households, typically with their parents.
- In 2014, for the first time in more than a century, more 18-34-year-olds were living with their parents than in other living situations.
- According to a 2015 poll, nearly 1/2 of adults in their 20’s still receive some financial support from their parents.
I personally feel that parents would do well to help their kids become successful and independent by giving them a launch plan. We need to discuss this with kids early in life so that they begin to make wise choices and realize that the umbilical cord of dependence will soon be cut. Here are a few practical tools we have utilized with our kids in preparation for their successful launch date:
- Household Independence. We have told our kids (around 14-15 years old) that sometime when they reach 19 years old, they will be launched out to succeed in life. In other words, you are welcome to visit our home for dinner or vacation, but once you are 19-ish, you need to flap your wings and succeed.
- Decision-Making Independence. This one is a bit tricky, but the bottom line is that we don’t treat our 18-year-old like we treat our 12-year-old. Beginning at age 16, we start to loosen the reins on decision-making for many issues including dating and employment. By 17-18 years old, we make a shift from “do what I say” to “I’m available for advice and counsel if you want it.” Let me give you an example. When our oldest daughter was 16, she would go to church and tithe on her paycheck because we taught her to and, frankly, we forced her to. We were instilling good habits in her. Now at 18 years old, our daughter has the freedom to go to church or not, tithe or not, and ask my advice on things such as work, finance, etc. But no longer do I control such decisions.
- Financial Independence. Too many parents coddle their kids and create financial dependence which inhibits their children from becoming responsible adults who know how to manage money. My kids knew early on that life is expensive, and that they needed to know how to save, give, and prepare for things like vehicles and college. For example, when my daughter got her driver’s license at 16, our insurance rates skyrocketed. We paid the first 6-month premium, but I showed her exactly how much it cost for her vehicle. I gave her a heads-up that, one day, it would be hers to pay. The next time the 6-month premium rolled around, I paid it again but showed her how much it cost and told her, “Next time, it’s yours to pay.” When Annika was almost 18 years old, she paid her first 6-month premium car insurance and has done it ever since. At the end of the day, my intention was not to stick her with the bill but to help create a highly responsible adult.
- College Independence. We gave our children advice, but ultimately the decision of college came down to their choice. We had been able to save roughly $4,000 per child to help with initial college expenses and told them about that amount beforehand. Equipped with that knowledge, our daughter decided on a college, paid for it by using the money that was available, and finished a 2 year degree debt free. When kids have the right tools to make good decisions, they often become responsible adults.
- Savings Independence. When my daughter turned 16 years old, I opened a Roth IRA and began teaching her the principles of savings and compound interest. She sat there like a deer in the headlights, not having a clue what I was saying. But two years later, she began to understand the power of it and has begun making regular contributions to her retirement account. This is an intentional part of the launch plan to help our kids succeed in life without being dependent on us forever.
- Individual Autonomy. As my daughter approaches 19 years old now, we have almost severed all financial and legal responsibilities so that she is ready to succeed without the controlling mechanisms of overbearing parents. Her bank account is now separate. She has her own credit card. The title to her car is in her name. She is responsible for car repairs and insurance. She prepares her own tax return. She is released from household chores. Our precious daughter is turning into an adult, and we have begun to treat her as such. Too many parents continue to shoulder legal and financial control of their children. That is not success. We want to launch our kids and help them succeed by giving them responsible independence.
- Wedding Independence. Our oldest daughter is getting married in March. I have performed about 40 weddings as a pastor, some of which have been sabotaged by overbearing parents who control the purse strings. Not me. When our daughter decided to get married, we gave our blessing and said, “Annika, we are able to give you $_______ for your wedding. We give it to you as a complete gift to do whatever you want. You can save it, spend it, use it, or waste it. You can elope and keep it. But if your wedding budget goes over that amount, it’s on you. We wish we could give more, but that money is yours and we trust your decisions for your wedding.” Some parents don’t feel that is responsible, which I respect, and I do not judge their decision. However, I believe that it treats our daughter with honor as an adult and gives her the freedom to make decisions without me hovering over her. Trust me, if I am involved in the financial decision-making of a $300 cake versus a $3,000 cake, there is going to be a tremendous fight, because I’m Dutch. Cheaper is better! But by giving her a gift and trusting her, it honors her as an adult.
Parents with young children, think about your launch plan. Parents with adult children, maybe they have become dependent upon you financially again. I’m not calling for drastic, immediate changes, but let me encourage you to be honest with them, and to help them prepare a plan that gets them back on their own two feet as responsible adults.
You are loved,