Launching Your Teen Into Life
About the Guest
Launching your teen into adulthood is bittersweet. On today’s broadcast, Dennis and Barbara Rainey fondly recall their last few months of family life before packing their teens up and saying goodbye at the dormitory.
Launching your teen into adulthood is bittersweet.
Launching Your Teen Into Life
Bob: A big part of parenting is learning how to gradually release your grip; how to gradually let go and launch your child to adulthood. But just when is the right time to do that? Here is advice from Dennis Rainey.
Dennis: This whole idea of releasing a child is a solidly biblical one that parents need to understand – because if you understand that you are but entrusted with this gift for a short period of time, you will be taking the responsibility of releasing that child very, very seriously.
I think some parents are letting go too soon. We are abandoning our children to the culture before our children are ready to handle the issues they are going to face in the culture. And I think, as parents, what we've got to face personally is the delicate balance between letting go but still staying involved.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 31st. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll help you find where that delicate balance is today and give you some suggestions for launching your child into adulthood. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. Back when you had kids at home, this time of year was – well, it is, for us – it's a crazy time of year between the band concert, the senior play, the talent show, all the activities that happen in that month and a half leading up to the end of the school year. As parents, it just – it gets crazy, and you start to think, "We don't have any time to really focus in on what's important with our kids."
Dennis: And if you don't know where you're headed with your children, you're going to end up just being frantic all the way through the last three or four months you have with your son or daughter before they go off to college, and that's why we put together a CD that is called "Release Points, Preparing Your Teen for the Future," and it's really the best advice that Barbara and I have around four key areas – developing life skills in your child; their character and helping them to make wise choices; spiritual growth and preparing them for the tests they're going to have spiritually on the college campus, maybe at work or in service; and then, finally, relationships, which is what we're going to talk about today – equipping your child to know how to love and how to forgive and how to ask for forgiveness and how to know how to relate to other people because they're going to spend the rest of their lives doing that, and they need to be equipped.
Bob: On the CD you talk about how to form friendships, you talk about what to look for in a spouse, and then what to cultivate in your own heart so you can be the right kind of husband or wife when marriage comes, if marriage comes, and how to deal with singleness, if that's what God has for you – or until God brings marriage along. And I think we ought to just jump right into what you and Barbara talk about on the CD. These are good coaching tips for parents who have a high school senior or a high school junior or just parents who are thinking, "I want to be proactive and start having the right mindset as we raise our kids all through the middle school and high school years."
Dennis: I think this would be a great CD to listen to even if you have preschool children because you need to know what you're aiming for; you need to know where you're launching the arrow towards; what the bull's eye is. And we talk about four very simple concepts in this CD that are very transferable, and we're going to equip you to be better parents as a result.
[from "Release Points"]
Bob: I've heard you describe many times on the broadcast about what the month of May feels like around the Rainey house. And when you have a senior, Barbara, the month of May gets particularly challenging, doesn't it?
Barbara: It really does, because there are a lot of extra activities that occur during the senior year that you don't have with a junior or a sophomore, for instance. Our seniors always do a play at the end of the year that the senior class puts on, so that requires a lot of practices, and it requires the family to go and watch, which we want to do, but it's another event, and then preparing for graduation and senior prom and a lot of the other things that go along with your son or daughter being a senior.
And those activities are fun, and they're wonderful, and they're special, but it just creates a lot of extra busy-ness for the whole family.
Bob: Here is what I'm wondering – in the midst of that busy-ness, do you lose perspective on the fact that your son or daughter is about to leave? Are you so busy that you forget that what's right around the corner at this point is the release?
Barbara: Yes, I think the tendency is to forget, because I do think that in the busy-ness you lose sight of what's ahead. But, for me, it kind of caught up with me at graduation because at graduation you can sit down, and you can breathe for a few minutes, and I just remember the whole graduation thing and watching the kids together and watching them parade in, and they call out their names, and it's not just my son, as I think back to that graduation – it was all these other kids that I knew, too, that he had gone to school with since he was in elementary school, and I knew those kids, and I knew their parents. So it's not just my own child that you begin to think ahead for – you're thinking about all these other kids and what the future holds for them and what does the future hold for your son? And that was when it sort of began to catch up with me, and I began to feel that emotion of what is this going to feel like when he's really gone?
Bob: Dennis, was there a time that you remember when it clicked in for you that it was here – the time had come?
Dennis: Well, it was all pretty emotional to me, but at a church service where we honored our seniors one night, there was a defining moment where the kids' youth pastor had written a poem that was entitled, "With These Hands," and what he did was he asked all of us, as parents, to stand as our graduating senior was seated in front of us, and we placed our hands on the shoulders of our sons and daughters. And Barbara and I were standing above Benjamin, and I remember, the more he read the more emotional I got.
Because this poem that he wrote really helps capture what is taking place in the heart of a parent as they are releasing their children to adulthood.
Bob: Barbara, I've got a copy of it here. Do you want to read what Mark wrote for our listeners?
Dennis: If she can.
Barbara: I'll try. It's not real easy to listen to because the way he wrote this there are so many pictures that standing there with our hands on Benjamin's shoulders, just a jillion memories flood through your brain because you just can picture doing all of these things that he has written about. So I will do my best to read this.
"With these hands I gently cradled this child, held him close to my heart; nursed his wounds and calmer her fears; held the books that I would read and rock this child fast asleep …
Dennis: She's never going to make it. I'll read it.
"With these hands, I gently cradled this child, held him close to my heart, nursed his wounds and calmed her fears; held the books that I would read and rocked this child fast asleep. With these hands, I made his lunches and drove the car that carried her to school, snapped endless pictures, wrapped countless gifts, then did my best to assemble those gifts. Combed his hair and wiped her tear, let her know that I was near; to nurse his wounds and heal her heart when it would break. With these hands, I made mistakes, and with these hands, I prayed and prayed and prayed. These hands are feeble, these hands are worn; these hands can no longer calm the storms. These hands have done all they can do; these hands now release this child, my child, to You. For Your hands are able, Your hands are strong, Your hands alone can calm the storms. Your hands will continue to do what they are so gifted to do – to shape his life and make her new. Into Your hands receive this child, for my child I now give back to You. In the strong name of Jesus and with all my heart I pray, amen."
I think the picture of standing over your son or your daughter and having that read and of seeing the snapshots along the way of the vivid memories of raising a son or raising a daughter, you are hit with the brevity of life and with the importance of the handoff. And although those seniors who sat there didn't weep nearly as much as their parents did, someday they will, and someday they will stand over a son or a daughter and, all of a sudden, they will understand why.
And the reason is, is parenting is exhausting, it is a challenge. It takes everything you've got to be able to pull it off to His glory, and as a parent, you desire that this child be commissioned by these hands and receive the blessing of God and go off on their own to make their own choices and honor Him with their lives, because I think that's what God set the family up to be, Bob. He set the family up to be the nurture center that after the life was built into and after it was cherished and cared for, that child was not intended to stay there but was intended to go adulthood and to make an impact on his or her world.
Barbara: One of the things that we've done with our kids – somewhere during their senior year, we've given them more freedom on hours, more freedom on where they can go and how late they can stay out and what they can do. But I've had lots of conversations with those seniors during their senior year about what it means to be accountable, because, in their minds, they're thinking, "This means I can do whatever I want whenever I want, and I don't have to report in."
And I've said to them, "Well, that's true, we're giving you more freedom, but it doesn't mean that your freedom is unlimited," and I with, each one of them, give the illustration of our relationship in marriage and how Dennis and I have freedom, but we always tell each other where we're going, when we're going to come back, when we expect one another, and if we're going to be later than we say, we're going to call. And I have explained to them that it's important that there is still accountability.
Even though we're giving you more freedom, you need us, and we need you, and we need to continue to relate. It doesn't mean a total letting go, and that's what we mean by abandonment, and I think it's easy to be talked into letting go too much by your kids because that's what your kids want, and they're going to demand that. But, as parents, we need to be wise and let our kids know that they still needs, and there needs to be a level of accountability and interaction in this increased freedom.
Bob: As a parent, from the emotion of graduation and of moments like the one you described, you head off into the summer and prepare for D-Day, for the inevitable, knowing that there is coming a day out there a month away, and then a week away, and then a few days away, when you will drive your child onto the college campus or toward his own apartment or off to the military barracks and say, "We'll see you later."
Dennis: It's my understanding that the eagle will begin to dismantle her nest as soon as the birds are ready to fly. They may not know they are ready to fly, but the mother eagle does, and so one day God has put it in her being to being to, piece by piece, take the nest apart. And you can almost picture these little birds looking at Mom going, "What in the world are you doing? We're on a cliff."
You know, and the little ones want to stay there and perch on the nest, but the mother eagle knows the birds were intended to soar not to stay in the next and perch. And, Bob, I would have to say one of the things that your mind goes back and forth between is, one, is you keep in mind that your children were meant to soar. They weren't meant to stay home.
But you also remember the nest, and you remember the pleasant time of having that relationship and that friendship and the fun that is involved in a family, and on one hand you don't want to dismantle that next but, on the other hand, you realize God intended them to soar.
And it was with those conflicting feelings that Barbara and I, along with Benjamin and Ashley, drove Benjamin to the university to take him to school. And, I've got to tell you, before we even got out of the city limits, Barbara and I looked at each other, and we were already starting to cry. And we thought, "You're a basket case," and she looked back at me and said, "You are, too." But the emotion of the moment was so profound, so powerful, to take Benjamin away to college, and Ashley had joined with us because she wanted to go be a part of this day, which was kind of Benjamin's sendoff.
Bob: Barbara, after the experience with Ashley, driving up to drop off Benjamin had to feel like something you didn't think you could live through again, didn't it?
Barbara: Well, it did, because with Ashley is was pretty easy to be naïve, and we just hadn't been through it before and so we didn't really know what to expect. But with Benjamin, we did know what to expect, which is why we found ourselves getting teary before we'd even left the city limits because we both knew what was coming. So it was with a sense of "wish we didn't have to go through this again" kind of thing and yet knowing that we had to do it; that we'd left town to drive him to school.
Dennis: Well, we went ahead and drove on to the university and arrived to have to clean his room, which was a pit. But it was nearly dusk when the first bittersweet moment came. Benjamin and I went outside the student housing for some fresh air and sat on the tailgate of a truck parked near the door.
There we sat and watched a stream of young men pass by. Most of them had been drinking or were in the process of getting drunk. I can't tell you how frightening it was to sit there and watch that occur and wonder – were we making a mistake? And here is where fathers have got to help the mothers of these young men and women – they've got to help them not build a fence around the nest. The dads have got to say, "Come on, Mom, you've got to start dismantling this thing and stop keeping the bird in the nest and let go."
And also remind one another that if you keep stuffing the bird back in the nest, the bird will never learn how to fly. The bird was meant to leave the nest and was meant to soar. And, as a parent, at that point, you've dismantled the nest. The bird has been kicked out of the nest, and there may be a freefall for a moment, but then the wings stretch out, and the bird begins to soar, and it wasn't long before we realized we hadn't made a mistake, and Benjamin was beginning to have an impact spiritually on those that he lived with.
We ended our day together with dinner, and, interestingly enough, we went to a place that Barbara and I used to hang out when we were college students in Northwest Arkansas, and after we worked our way through some of their chicken, I pulled out my Bible and just a couple of days before when I was having a quiet time, I believe the Lord had brought me a passage of Scripture that embodied what this release point was all about.
Philippians, chapter 2, verse 14-16 – "Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation holding fast the word of life so that in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain."
The more I read, the more I choked up. The words "crooked and perverse generation" described the world Benjamin was about to enter. It was a solemn moment. As my eyes met Benjamin's they filled with tears again. I challenged him – "Son, hold fast to your faith so that your mom and I will have reason to rejoice that the 18 years of parenting was not in vain."
Moments later, Barbara and I hugged Benjamin's neck one last time in the parking lot before letting go. We told him we loved him no matter what and prayed that God would give him the strength and the courage to with stand the temptations he was about to face. Then all three of us cried together one last time.
And those are bittersweet moments but now, you know, looking back on it, it was right, it was good, and it was a passage of a life into young adulthood, and God has honored His faith and His Word in Benjamin's life, and his mother's faithfulness and all the instruction she brought to bear in his life, and we look back now as that mother eagle must look from the ledge as her young eagles soar.
Bob: So listening back to that kind of brings it all back to you, doesn't it?
Dennis: It does, and it is good to see him soar. It's not fun to watch him hit the ground. And you know what? In raising a young person from childhood through adolescence into adulthood, this is not a science. This is not a mathematical equation where it's A+B+C=D. It's a process, and I just think parents need all the encouragement, the help, the hope, and they need some thoughts about how to get there and how to make a healthy release. Because I see a lot of adult children today whose parents haven't let go of them, and they're still holding on, and the parents are getting their needs met somehow through their children. That's not healthy.
Bob: Well, and you wonder if parents are hanging on, in part, because they look at the life of a child and think, "I don't know that we did the job the way we were supposed to."
Dennis: Yeah, in fact, Bob, I think there's a tendency with all parents to look back with regret – shoulda, coulda, woulda – and the guilt or the shame of mistakes we made, and, you know, it's as we let our children go, we also need to let some of our failures go, too. No parent does it perfectly, but we all need to have, I think, this Book, the Bible, in front of us in terms of how we are going about releasing them to adulthood and to life, and that's really why we put together this CD.
Bob: Well, and I think in the CD you raise some key questions for all of us, as parents. We have to ask ourselves – have I dealt with the character issues that need to be bedrock in my child's life before I release that child? Things like honesty and compassion and courage. Have we had talks about these things and do I really sense that my son or daughter understands these very foundational issues? Or about relationships and how to form friendships and what to look for in a spouse? Or about the spiritual disciplines and how to continue to grow spiritually on your own in a campus setting or as you're out in the workplace or in the military. And then the basic life skills – things like financial management and how to find a job and be a good employee and how to take care of a car – things like that.
You really challenge us in each of these areas in the CD. Again, it's called "Release Points, Preparing Your Teen to Launch." And along with the CD, we've got a special gift to give to you that you can pass along to your teenager – it's the "Congratulations 2009" CD and DVD combo. It features songs from some of the top artists in contemporary Christian music – Sanctus Real, Stellar Kart, Relient K, Toby Mack, other groups like that. There is an interactive DVD that comes with it as well, and a booklet that comes along with it.
We send you that package that you can give to a high school senior you know – maybe your own son or daughter along with the "Release Point" CD for you to listen to, as a parent. You can get more information about how to receive these resources by going to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, it's FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
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Your donations right now are critical, and you are helping us stay on this station and other stations all across the country, and we very much appreciate your generosity. If you are able to help with a donation right now for the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we have a thank you gift we'd like to send you. It's a DVD of a new project called "Magdalena, Released from Shame." This movie tells the story of many of the women whose lives were impacted by the ministry of Jesus and, as you know, in that culture and in Jesus's time, women were not given basic human respect and dignity. But, of course, these women who met Jesus found ultimate worth and ultimate value as their lives were transformed by the Master.
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Now, tomorrow we want to talk with a couple of wives about what a woman does when she learns that her husband has been involved, in an ongoing way, with sexual sin. We will dive into that subject tomorrow, and I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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