Launching Children: Lessons from Like Arrows

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After raising children for 25 years, I’ve been to my fair share of birthday parties and quite frankly rarely do I enjoy them. 

But, perhaps it was the crisp first signs of spring weather or maybe the season of my life that made me more reflective. Perhaps it was the metaphor of the party theme, rock climbing, that conjured me to see the symbolism around every corner. Certainly, it had a lot to do with having just watched the new FamilyLife film, Like Arrows. Now, as I sit and process after a busy weekend, I am more sure than ever, parenting isn't just about raising kids, it's about launching them.

As parents, we start with big dreams. Dreams that include grandiose visions of our children being raised to become. Become better, stronger, perfected replicas of us, their parents.  His sharp wit, her compassionate heart. Just the right amount of courage, not too much strong will, obedient yet confident. But then there are poopy diapers, temper tantrums, defiance, bad decisions and rebellion.  Before we know it we're just hoping to survive parenthood, and praying that our kids will be okay.

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In my coaching, I see parents experiencing so many of the same themes beautifully highlighted in Like Arrows. Good parents, working hard, speaking on values but not quite living them.  At times too focused on the end game that they miss the small moments and others who are so caught up in the minute by minute details that they never take time to plan where the journey will lead.  Like Arrows does a wonderful job of showing what I believe, that parenting is about living in a place of balance, led from a foundation of faith. 

The image of pulling back and arrow, precisely aimed at a specific target, is an excellent representation for what it feels like dropping off my oldest at the first day of kindergarten and it was the same feeling as I drove home, leaving her at her first dorm room. As a mom I believe you do what you can with intention and you have faith that they will launch, and stay the course.  A few more thoughts came to mind this weekend, watching my baby girl climb a rock wall tethered to what, in my mind, was a thin rope, so I'll share those here with you.

Raising kids and being in relationship with them are two different things. I like to say my youngest daughter slipped in under the wire.  We thought we were done.  She makes her own rules and some of the time and that's not easy to parent.  Raising her with rules, when she lives to make her own takes some patience.  It also takes listening to her describe outfits she's mentally designed, watching YouTube videos and letting her do my makeup.  Being in relationship with someone means even when we don't share an interest, we engage in shared activities.  It means stopping to listen and talk, even when your time is limited.  It's making the most of the moments in everyday. I tell my clients rules without relationship will always equal rebellion.

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It's important to remember, when rules are being constantly challenged, often times it's the relationship that needs repair.  Caring for children, paying the bills, dropping off and picking up, all of the stuff we do as parents, that's the raising part. But the relationship, that's the shared glance, the funny stories, the traditions and memories.  Those are just as important, if not more.

Children often ask for what they want, not always what they need. Our job is knowing which is which and what to give when. In one series of scenes in the movie, Alice describes how her daughter has been begging for space. Heading into raising my third teen girl, I'd say I've heard that a time or too myself.  But after a bad decision comes to light, it's clear to Alice that space may have been what she claimed to want, but it was not at all what she needed.

After some years, and a few wrong moves, I've learned that leaning more on my faith helps.  It's like having a decoder ring, trying to hear what they mean in spite of what they say.  Even though the tongue of a teen can be as sharp as a knife, knowing they don't always mean what they say can be comforting.  Understanding what they feel even more so.

Our job is to be faithful, change is up to God.  Go ahead, read that again.  Easily my favorite line of the entire movie, it speaks to one of the most important things a parent must be, consistent.  There's always more work, rarely extra time and perfection doesn't exist.  If, however, we can be mostly present for our kids, mostly living our values as much as we speak them and usually maintaining a healthy balance of focus between the days and the years of our children's lives, then we are likely doing a better job than we think, and we can count on our children launching straight toward their target and on track for an awesome landing.

It also speaks to an important concept when we are in the trenches with a struggling child, change is a process, not an event.  Even when we as parents have worked hard to make changes, we can't expect that our children will change overnight.  As we keep moving forward, change occurs, mostly when we're not looking.

If you're interested in learning more about the limited screening of Like Arrows or FamilyLife's new parenting series, click the links for more details.