Tomorrow My Son Turns 18… Have I Raised Him Right?

By Jonathan McKee
The following post was originally featured on Jonathan’s blog on May 16. We thought it touched nicely on May’s theme of Milestone Emphasis.

Tuesday, my son Alec turns 18.

In just a few months I’ll be dropping him off at his college dorm, over 300 miles from home, where he will start the next stage of his life… finally out on his own.

For 18 years Lori and I have been teaching him, coaching him, hanging out with him, laughing with him, playing with him, dragging him to events and camps that I’ve spoken at. I still have a drawing he made for me at one of those camps—he drew it during my talk to the teenagers. It says, “I’m proud of you dad!” I still have it. I keep it in my laptop case when I travel.

I love to think of those fun moments.

Of course there were also the times in the last 18 years when we were correcting him, lecturing him, grounding him… (gulp) yelling at him… it’s weird to think about it all—good and bad. My parenting was so imperfect. Constant second-guessing. Was I too lenient? Was I too strict? Did I teach him enough? Did I lecture too long?

My days as the primary mentor in his life are mostly over. Sure, I still have input, but the reality of the situation is, he’s now a young man and he can do whatever he wants.

Have I prepared him for this day?

For years now, at the end of my parenting workshops—almost every time—a mom will come up to me in tears and say something like, “I think I’ve blown it! It’s too late. I think I’ve lost my son.” (or my daughter) Each time this has happened, I tried to comfort them and offer encouragement, emphasizing the importance of looking for opportunities for relationship building with their son or daughter.

In the last few years when I faced these questions, I began to sweat a little more and answer these questions with a little less confidence. After all, I’m far from the perfect Dad.

In my latest book, CANDID CONFESSIONS OF AN IMPERFECT PARENT, I addressed these feelings as I wrapped up the last few chapters of my book. The last two chapters are titled:

CHAPTER 9: BEFORE THEY’RE GONE—RAISING UP DANIELS

CHAPTER 10: AM I TOO LATE?—LAST MINUTE EFFORTS

In those two chapters I talk about the calling that we have as parents to raise up “Daniels” who will someday be plucked from our safety net and thrown into the real world where they have to “resolve” for themselves how they will live their lives.

Tomorrow, those chapters become a reality for Lori and I.

As I look at who our three kids have become, I am truly humbled at God’s grace. In spite of my many failures, they are really amazing kids. They’ve traveled with me (Alec even spoke with me this year), they love their church and are involved in leadership there. I’m so proud of my kids.

Have I told them that enough?

Maybe it’s my turn to sit down and make a drawing for Alec.

“I’m proud of you, son!”

Jonathan McKee, president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of numerous books including the brand new Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, Ministry By Teenagers, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the award winning book Do They Run When They See You Coming? He speaks and trains at camps, conferences, and events across North America, and provides free resources for youth workers internationally on his website, TheSource4YM.com.