My older daughter goes to the 8th grade dance tonight, that all-American rite of passage where the girls stand on one side of the gym and the boys stand on the other.
It doesn’t really bother me that she’s going to the dance. I’m not really concerned about the whole boy-girl thing at this point. She’s growing into an amazing, mature young lady who, so far, has shown an incredible ability to make wise decisions.
But I am in a bit of shock that my girls aren’t little any more. Somehow they grew to be 11 and 13 while I blinked. As I ponder the fact that there are no little girls in my house any more, that there are no more days of tea party and dress-up, I find myself wondering how to parent these not so little girls.
As they get older, kids need a different kind of parenting. Oh, they still need rules and boundaries and love and laughter. They just need it in a different form.
Gone are the days of simply telling my kids how everything is going to be — from what they wear to what they eat to what we’re going to do today. Gone are the days of entertaining them with a paper towel roll and a box.
Despite the fact that my girls aren’t little any more, they still need parents. They just need us to parent a little differently. So, here’s what I’m learning about parenting my kids who aren’t little any more:
They need us to listen. More than anything else, our not-so-little kids need us to have open ears. They need us to really hear their hearts and their thoughts. They are forming their own opinions and processing through all the changes that go with growing up, and they need someone to talk to. If we aren’t listening they’ll find someone else.
They need us to offer advice. The older our kids get, the less they need us to tell them what to do, and the more they need us to offer them some advice. Then they can make their own decisions. Here’s the thing about offering advice, though. Sometimes our kid will choose not to take it. They’ll choose a different road than we will, which leads us to the next thing they need from us.
They need us to let them make mistakes. One of the best teachers in life is experience, and sometimes those experiences aren’t necessarily good ones. Our kids need to make mistakes. They need to suffer the consequences for poor decisions. They need to learn how to fix a mistake. If we are constantly fixing their mistakes for them, then they never learn this important skill.
They need us to set boundaries. While our older kids are asking for more independence, they still need that independence within boundaries. They need to know where the lines are that they can operate within. Believe it or not, when you set boundaries for your kids, they know it means you love them.
They need us to pray for them. Our kids are dealing with all sorts of changes as they get older. They’re learning to navigate friendships and other relationships. They’re learning who they are and who they want to be. And they need us to pray for them. Prayer is a powerful tool in our parenting arsenal. We should use it often.
If your kids aren’t little any more, it takes a different kind of parenting to raise them. But one thing is true, they still need you.