Parenting is Like Holding Water

Parenting is like holding water…

This past year I’ve seen a number of families with grown children, or parents with teens or young adults. And one thing that most of them seem to have in common is the challenge of changing the relationship (and themselves!) as their kids develop. 

Of course, as infants, kids are completely dependent, and parents construct all of their experiences. As they get older, they begin to watch TV or read books that we haven’t read, to have conversations with friends and teachers that we aren’t a part of… they begin to differentiate from parents. Parents no longer know all the information, stories, experiences, memories, ideas, feelings, etc. in their kids’ heads. But often they continue to act as if they are constructing their kids’ realities, and don’t think to begin to add mutual self-disclosure to the relationship. Kids are becoming new people, and parents now need to learn who they are. As preteens and teens, of course the divide widens. Peer influences get stronger and this is sometimes when parents suddenly notice that they “don’t recognize this kid!” That’s not the kid’s fault… they’re just developing. It’s the parents (in most cases) who have not updated their maps of their kids as they have grown and changed. 

Many of the parents of teens and young adults I’ve been seeing are trying desperately to hold onto their kids, to continue to construct their realities. They’re trying to hold water. 

Imagine holding your hand under a a tiny stream of water drops. (Better yet, go do this!) When there are just a few drops, you can hold them all in your palm. When the pool of water gets bigger, if you focus on balance and negotiating the tiny changes, you can hold quite a bit for quite a while. At some point, though, the water becomes more than we can hold. At this moment, if we panic, and try to squeeze the water tightly to keep it from running over, it all squeezes out and we lose it all. This is what a lot of these parents are trying to do – hold their kids tightly because they’re afraid of losing them. 

Note that I didn’t title this “Parenting is like TRYING to hold water” …if parents can “hold them lightly,” they can’t hold onto all of their kids, but they can hold some of them, and certainly more than they can if they squeeze. 

By holding kids lightly, I don’t mean necessarily being overly permissive or just being friends. Parents still need structure – a loose, dangling hand can’t hold any water either! I mean everyday inviting your kid into a real, mutual relationship with you – that means a relationship that changes as they change! (and as you change!) And it means accepting their invitations into a real relationship, even when it’s not completely on yours terms (e.g., play time when you’d rather read, listening to music that sounds like noise, caring about “teen drama,” supporting their interests and choices even when they’re not what you would choose).


Comment below: What thoughts do you have about this holding water metaphor? Did you try it experientially? What metaphors do you sometimes use with parents?