I’m a huge Star Wars fan… don’t even ask me to estimate the number of times I’ve seen the original trilogy. It might be embarrassing! With the upcoming release of Episode 8 this Friday, I thought I’d share one scene that has stood out to me as a profound parenting scene, and it probably goes through my head weekly. And no, it’s not a Yoda quote.
Some background: during the battle of Hoth, in The Empire Strikes Back (early reviews say that Episode 8 might be even better than Empire!), Luke comes up with a daring plan to defeat the giant AT-AT walkers attacking the rebel base: trip up their legs using the harpoon and cable. There’s only one problem. Dak, Luke’s gunner, has been killed. So it’s up to Rouge 3 and Wedge Antilles to bring down the lead enemy. Wes Janson, Wedge’s gunner, makes a perfect shot and at the very last minute, Janson yells, “Cable out! Let her go!”
The cable detaches, the AT-AT is tripped and down she falls, to cheers and celebration. A small victory, but a critical one! You can see the scene here:
How in the world does this relate to parenting?
The phrase, “Cable out! Let her go!” runs through my mind almost any time I think about parenting kids toward mature adulthood. There is an urgency and tension in that exclamation: on the one hand, if the cable is detached too soon – the work will have been done in vain. If there’s not enough cable wrapping the legs, the walker will just break free.
But on the other hand, if the cable is detached too late, the speeder and pilots will crash! The timing has to be perfect, and the success of the whole mission rests on that one moment.
Parenting our kids well asks that we walk this same tension. For each child, there is going to be a time when we need to intentionally allow them to detach – to go out on their own and to make their own decisions – whether they succeed or fail.
Ignoring the major moment when they leave home, there are still many of these small, critical moments in parenting. Perhaps it’s allowing our kids to explore media we’re not entirely comfortable with, or allowing them to choose a peer group when we wish they would stay away. It might involve their use of time, money, diet or even a spiritual practice or event attendance. In parenting teens, there are plenty of little moments where we begin to hand over autonomy to our children.
But finding that timing is critically important. Let our kids go too soon, and we might not have instilled the character or habits necessary for making wise decisions or allowed enough time for proper maturity. Let them go too late – try and maintain parental control of an adolescent teen for too long – and we can end up crashing the whole relationship. We need to identify the moment to release our kids carefully.
This tension between too soon and too late is essential to acknowledge. It requires real wisdom, and often the advice of family, friends and our spouses are invaluable in making the right choice.
Unlike Wes Janson, we don’t have the benefit of a cable gauge to tell us when to let go! But I have found that having the line, “Cable out! Let her go!” run through my head during parenting moments keeps me focused on the important questions. Is this a moment to release, or to double down?