launching my daughter (the goal of parenting a teenager)

ok, youthworker.
ok, parent.

riddle me this: what’s the goal of parenting a teenager?

my own answer to this has morphed a bit over the years, particularly in the years since my own children have been teenagers.

i was never in these camps, however:

  • the goal of parenting teenagers is to create contributing members of society.
  • the goal of parenting teenagers is to create nice, compliant, church members.
  • the goal of parenting teenagers is that they would be adults who earn lots of money.

i wasn’t even in this camp:

  • the goal of parenting teenagers is that they would be adults who are happy.

that one, however, is more seductive than the prior three, since i do want my kids to be happy (it’s just not my ultimate goal).

for a bunch of years, i held to this one:

  • the goal of parenting teenagers is to create radical followers of jesus.

or something like that. to a youth worker’s ear, that sounds pretty good, huh? but to be honest, i think that was more about me than it was about my kids — i wanted to be that dad whose kids changed the world, man. yeah!

as if i could “create” that! pul-eeze. who did i think i was? (hint: rhymes with “freeze us”)

but today, my “goal of parenting teenagers” could be summed up with this little video:

in other words:

  • the goal of parenting teenagers is to effectively launch them into adulthood!

my thinking is: our pervasive cultural “failure to launch” has very little to do with what teenagers and young adults want, or are capable of. most would prefer to be adults, if we (“we” both refers to our culture at large, and our dominant fear-based approach to parenting) would release them from the dry-docks.

liesl, my oldest, the apple of my eye, my baby, the daughter i love more than just about anything or anyone else in the entire known or unknown universe, has launched. a few weeks ago, she graduated from high school. the next day, she headed off to a camp where she’ll be full-time staff for the entire summer. she’ll be home for a few weeks at the end of the summer; then she and a friend head off to england, scotland, and india, for 9 months of volunteering, adventure, growing up, and risk-taking. yup: risk-taking. i know this next year will be a 12-month version of those boat-sideways/almost-tipping-over/first few seconds of ship-launching. i know she’ll try things i’d rather not know about. i know she’ll stub her toe (certainly metaphorically). she’ll make great choices and lousy choices and reap the rewards and consequences of them all.

am i nervous about my little girl launching? am i nervous about what might happen on the other side of the world? absolutely. 100 percent. i’m sure i’ll have some nights over the next year when it’ll be tough to get to sleep, when my fears get the best of me.

but she’s ready. she’s certainly not perfect — just like her parents on that one. but she’s aware of the connection between consequences and choices; and — for an 18-year old — she has a fairly clear understanding of who she is and what she values. i don’t always agree with her choices, to be sure. but they’re her choices.

it’s very strange, knowing that my job as a dad is basically done. sure, i’m going to help pay for college over the years to come. and i hope to be both a support and a sounding board. but these days, most of that is via ship-to-shore radio, rather than tinkering in the shipyard.

i love you, liesl, and i’m really proud of you. travel well, be yourself, and bring grace to those around you.

9 thoughts on “launching my daughter (the goal of parenting a teenager)”

  1. Ah. This is great. And the time in the shipyard goes by so quickly. I stand on the docks sometimes and just miss my kids.
    Thanks for this, Mark.

  2. raising adults rather than raising children…not a bad job description for parents to claim.
    don’t underestimate your role as the dad of an adult…it can still be very demanding, just not the same as when they were little (think mentor, counselor/adviser).

  3. put tears in my eyes for sure! And I totally agree….oh, and I also agree that Liesl (my beautiful neice) is amazing!

  4. I agree with Roger…the more older (50+) parents I talk to the more I hear semi-surprise that parenting never ends, and not just from helicopter parents but good launching parents

    and perhaps combining your radical and launching philosophies:
    launching them into adulthood hoping (or having directed?) they’re captivated by Christ

  5. and who knew the best/typical way to launch ships was an awkward and counterintuitive sideways launch!

  6. I love this post and video. I love that every launch like pbj said is awkward. It almost seems like the ships are going to go right under. The crowd goes wild and knows that the messy launch is the beginning of many journeys. Looking forward to the big splash my son will make when he launches into adulthood. I’m sure when that time comes I’ll remember this post :-). Thanks Mark.

  7. Mark, as usual you always have the perfect words for every event in life. I too just launched my daughter…into adulthood? I hope so. But I know for sure that she has a solid foundation, uh, hull, rooted in Jesus and as long as she uses that as her compass she won’t get too lost. And I will always be at the shoreline maybe not as a parent raising a child, but as her mother whom is also an adult with experience to share and hopefully enlighten her on her many journey’s.

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