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As rough as those teenage years are, nothing quite prepares us for the major event that occurs when they finish high school: leaving home.


Whether it's spending a year learning in Israel or going off to college, after all the struggling and frustrations who would have imagined their leaving would be so traumatic? Despite all we've been through, we're devastated.

Rabbi E.E. Dessler taught that giving leads to loving. Who gives more than parents? Who loves more? "How much do I love you?" I ask my youngest son. "So much that you can't take it!" he proudly replies. And I know it's not completely reciprocal -- yet. Children don't give as much at this stage in their lives, despite their constant kvetching about all their household responsibilities! They don't love as much. And, as much as they love their life at home, they can't wait to leave.

In fact, all their teenage years are preparation for this moment. Their time with their friends seems to expand and deepen as they begin their emotional and physical withdrawal. But don't be fooled. They still want to know that we are waiting at home. Don't push them out the door too soon.

There comes a time in every teen's life when it's time to spread their wings and fly.

Although it may be a bittersweet phase for us, and at times our hearts may be breaking, we know it's a positive development in their lives. There comes a time in every teen's life where they can no longer grow effectively in their home environment, when it's time to spread their wings and fly.

In order to accomplish our goals of raising successful adults, they need to go. They need to learn that they can make it on their own - whether it's figuring out directions, doing their laundry or more serious choices about classes and schools, and eventually finding their spouses. Leaving the warm cocoon of home forces our children to grow up and take responsibility. Staying at home may delay that progression. . There is comfort in recognizing that this is an important milestone for your adolescent sons and daughters. It is a crucial step towards an independent adult life. It's a true test of bitachon, of trust in the Almighty. They are going to make mistakes and we will not be able to protect them. They are going to choose poorly, although hopefully not too often.

And, in some ways, a test of our trust in our children, and the values we have taught them in our homes.over the years.

Even though their future was never really in our hands, we are now confronted with that reality in all its starkness. Yes, the Almighty does run the world.

And not only is it good and right for them. It's good and right for the whole family. Everyone learns and grows in different ways from the experience. Although some siblings look forward to more space, perhaps a whole room to themselves most focus on the particular contributions that sister or brother has made to the home and what they will now miss.

The whole family also needs the realignment. Teenagers dominate the household, their moods dictate the atmosphere. It is a good when they leave and allow their siblings to move up the ladder. Every child needs his/her day in the sun.

So we need to deal with the trauma. It certainly is sobering. "Wasn't I just a teenager?" we ask ourselves. "How well I remember my own high school graduation..." Yes we realize we're getting older, but when we sense that hope and promise, that excitement in the open future that lies ahead, glistening in our teenager's bright eyes and shining face, it becomes a time for our own introspection. We wonder if we have let our own hopes and dreams die.

Our role as parents begins to change. Whatever we were going to teach them has already been taught. The opportunity for fine-tuning is over; their basic characters are built. But it's not yet time to pull out the E-Z boy chair. Our (almost adult) children still need us, and not just to pay their bills (although that is a compelling need). They still need our emotional support, our unconditional love and our respect.

As our adolescents teeter on the cusp of adulthood, we have to be there when they come looking. They are making their own choices and, hardest of all, we must respect them and their decision-making process, even if their choices are different than we desire.

They need our respect more than we realize. They need our patience, our caring and our wisdom. We are their home and their foundation. They need to know that the fans back home are cheering them on. They need us to treat them like adults yet be sensitive to the times when they want a little babying (doesn't everyone want to go home to mom when they feel sick?). They need the security of knowing we're available when needed.

Don't push. Give advice only when asked (sounds like the antithesis of parenting!). Their interest in our input will decrease proportionately with our insistence on it. It's ironic. All the parenting skill sets we spent years learning and perfecting (all those books we read and all those lectures we attended!) now must be discarded in favor of a new, subtler model.

It's a tremendous adjustment. It's the point at which parenting truly is a chesed shel emes, giving with no expectations of return.

And it's one of the biggest gifts we can ever give our children: our confidence in their ability to make adult choices, and our unconditional love and support.

July 10, 2004

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Anonymous, February 27, 2005 12:00 AM


Boy - I read some of the comments from overprotective parents who want their children to stay helpless children and I say, "Scary!" Leaving home to go to another city for college was the pivotal event in beginning my maturity process and, thus, my adulthood. If you withold that experience from or discourage it for kids, you will raise a generation of spoiled, dependent adult infants.

(4) Dr. Alex Pister, July 25, 2004 12:00 AM

it's the best yet with more to come

My wife and I have just such a daughter. She left for a year of study in a Seminary. It was a phenomenal experience. She's going back for another half a year (or more iy'H). All I can say is we've always been very close but now we're even closer. As far as waiting for a request from our daughter, as the article says, for input and advice we haven’t found that to be our reality. My daughter is mature and independent but is more than pleased and even desires us to engage in deep discussions about the realities, and decisions of her life. One tip I have for all parents of younger kids is: maintain that loving relationship with your children at all costs. There is nothing as valuable as having an ongoing, loving relationship with your kid. That means constantly looking for things to do with them. Take them to the convenience store for no reason at all other than to buy them a treat. Shabbos treat excursions are a must on Thursday nights. Listen to them with pure respect. Talk to them about their struggles and issues very matter of factly. It isn't once that I've had one of my daughter's, and my son, crying in my study for hours. Often in the middle of the night. It's a win win. For every second spent listening to them we get closer and closer. My influence "currency" builds more and more. And yeah there will be plenty of difficulties, challenges and outright battles. After the dust settles just move on. And find opportunities to apologize to your kids. Nothing sends the message of respect more than "Abba" actually saying he's wrong and sorry. Really, all this starts at the birth. Get on the floor and play with them and just never stop. Don't let their accomplishments (or lack thereof) get in the way of their knowing that no matter what you love them unconditionally. They need to know that your love for them is independent of absolutely everything. Tell them that. Repeatedly. No child will ever get sick of it. All of the above having been said my wife and I are freaking out about our oldest daughter leaving our nest. The thought of her marrying some guy? Ahhhh! But as the newest expression goes: "It's all good". When I asked my oldest daughter what the most significant factor was that led to our positive relationship she summed it up by saying she always felt a “deep commitment” from my wife and I to the kids. That no matter what, in her mind, we were there. As well she said we didn’t just talk to her about personal growth but also role modeled for her by doing our own best to grow. Tip: the co-author of this article, Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, has some must listen tapes on dealing with and raising teens. “Realizing Your Parenting Potential” is an 8 tape series that I personally listened to in the car several times. Also, in Eretz HaKodesh, there is Rabbi Dov Brezak who is excellent and has a tape series out called: “Concepts in Chinuch”.

(3) Yehudis, July 13, 2004 12:00 AM

Says Who?

EVERY teen must leave home? Is that so? Is there a Torah source for that?

"Exile yourself to a place of Torah" may indeed apply to some boys, but what of the many who already live in a place of Torah?

And should unmarried girls leave home to "spread their wings"? Isn't this a non-Jewish concept? Up until very recently, girls went from their parents' home to their husband's home!

I think it's time that frum people examine whether their worldview is Torah-based or is derived from the values of our secular society.

(2) Anonymous, July 12, 2004 12:00 AM

Ithink that teenagers can pay some bills...

I liked thus article... but as for paying bills... conditions apply.. if we spoil our children too much, they will probably not know how to handle their accountzs and save for the future... unconditional love has its traps...

(1) Anonymous, July 11, 2004 12:00 AM

are there no limits?

My daughter married an atheist and my son is seriously involved with a Hindu woman. I raised them to Love the Lord thy God. I am beyond sad at these "choices". Of couse I love them unconditionally. I can't support some of their choices.... what to do?

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