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

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!”

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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4 Responses to Tomorrow My Son Turns 18… Have I Raised Him Right?

  1. Jon Forrest says:

    Wow man, I just prayed for you. I know you wouldn’t know me if I walked up and smacked you. But I realized I may have a dependency problem today when the two guys I have interning with me this summer asked how I came up with my Wednesday night lessons and I said, “well, actually, thesource4ym.” I read you so much I feel like I know Alec myself. I know his hobbies, favorite movies, even favorite pizza. Sorry, that sounds a little stalkerish. Shoot, he’s helped me. I’m proud of him.
    I’ve found that kids have the best chance for doing right when their parents are exactly who they claim to be. Even if the dad is a rat, his kid has a good chance if the dad is honest about his ratness. I think you literally wrote the book on this. If you don’t feel like you can trust the parenting you’ve done, from what I’ve seen Alec has reached the point where you can trust the man he’s become.

  2. Jennifer Davis says:

    Hi Jonathan!

    Great blog! I sent in a question for you through your contact page regarding this post.

    Thanks so much!

  3. Gordon Gathright says:

    While it is true that you are moving on as primary mentor, you will never be replaced as mentor. My son is turning 29 in July and we still have great talks about things he wants help with as well as having a listening ear.

  4. Chico Viars says:

    Dude….I identify with the “constant second guessing” and my oldest just turned 7. Sheesh! I think I need to buy your book just on principle 🙂
    My deepest desire is to be deserving of a drawing that says, “I’m proud of you, dad.” Anyway, prayers and blessings for you, my brother.