Life’s Paths: The Many Roles Parents Play

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As every parent knows, raising children requires us to play many roles. From nurse to cook to disciplinarian to court jester, keeping our kids happy and healthy means wearing many hats, some that are comfortable and familiar to us and some that are not. Usually we are more successful at fulfilling some roles than others — and this is why it's such a blessing to be a part of a team. My wonderful wife and I negotiated the roles we played in our children's lives so that we each contributed in valuable ways and kept all the bases covered.

Of all the roles we play in our kid's lives, one of the most important is the role of “Teacher”. As I grew into this role with my own kids, I was inspired to write The 10 KIDmandments to make a record of the most important lessons and to share them with others who, like myself, wanted to be great parents. Taking on the role of “writer” allowed me to spend some serious time thinking about what these roles mean to us in our lives, and how I could encourage my three daughters to take on the roles that fulfill them as they continue to grow and become more independent.

Life's Purpose, Life's Paths

The second KIDmandment is Life's Paths. As I discussed in last week's blog, discovering our purpose is one of the biggest and most rewarding challenges in our lives. Finding our own answer to the question “what is my PURPOSE in life?” opens the door to a meaningful life, both at work and at home. Once we know what our purpose is, we have an idea of the PATH that we are meant to follow.

Paths are the roles we play in life to achieve “success” — which to me means a happy, loving, and purpose-driven life. The earlier we teach our children to discover and embrace their purpose and path, the likelier they are to understand how the roles they play contribute or take away from their happiness and purpose. The childhood and teenage years are full of exploration of various roles. So, encouraging our children to explore as many paths as they need to help them achieve their purpose is a great help. 

As our kids get older and take on more responsibility for their own decisions and direction, the roles we play as their parents change. It is so important to let them develop their independence and feel like they are in control of their own lives, but it can be difficult to relinquish the roles that have become comfortable to us. How can we continue to support them as our roles change?

A Parent's Shifting Roles

The author and educator Michael Reira, Ph.D., has an interesting theory about the roles that parents play as their children grow. In a video for kidsinthehouse, he addresses the ways our roles change as our kids become more independent, and some of the challenges that we face. He says:

“When kids are born, the parents metaphorically are the 'manager' of their life… Then somewhere in late middle school [or] early high school… they unceremoniously… fire us as the 'manager'… and say 'that's it, I'll take it from here.' The reality is, when they fire you, that's what they're supposed to do, that's how they're going to develop their independence. What [parents] have to do when they fire us is grieve a little bit, get over it… and get re-hired as the 'consultant… and think more about influence than control.”

I like the way Reira frames the roles that parents play when this shift occurs. From “manager” in early life to “consultant” in their teen years, our role changes from someone who is in control to someone who has the power to influence behavior and choices in a positive direction. Reira also acknowledges that this shift can be hard for parents. We have the choice to gracefully accept this change in our role or to fight it and create conflict, which actually makes it harder to play the new role we should be playing.

As my daughters have grown and matured, I've embraced my changing role and tried to do my best to continue to be a positive influence on their path. The reality of this shift has really hit home recently as my oldest daughter prepares to choose a college and begin a stage of her life where I have much less control than I did previously. I've assumed the role of “supporter”, or “consultant”, allowing her to make the choice that fits her best while remaining by her side to guide her.

The Roles We Play

One of the most important things to realize about the roles we play is that they are just that — roles. We have to understand the distinction between who we are, our “real” selves, and the roles we play during our lives, our “role” selves. I believe this distinction is crucial because I know that we don't always succeed at the roles we play. Sometimes the role isn't right for us, isn't on our path, or sometimes a role just isn't well suited to our unique talents and abilities. But just because we fail at a particular role doesn't mean we fail as people. Our “real” selves always have tremendous value, even if we sometimes fail in some of our “roles”.

As we grow and change and shift in the roles that we take on, we should always remember the value in who we are, as individuals and together as a family. Transitions are difficult for parents and for kids (or young adults!), but even when we fail in a role we are playing, the love that we share between our “real” selves never fails.

What roles do you play in your children's lives? And how do you adjust to the changes in those roles? Join the conversation by tweeting @JeffOddo!