A Good Parent Won’t Parent Like the Majority
What if good parenting isn’t exactly what we think it is?
What if good parenting means:
- we step back and let our kids make choices we know aren’t the very best for them?
- we see potential failure ahead and we allow room to fall without swooping in for the rescue?
- we don’t race ahead of our kids and remove each stone from their path so they never stub their toes?
- we don’t clean up their messes, rather we hug and love them through the cleanup phase?
What does good parenting look like today? There is a term I despise: “adulting.” I’d like to eliminate its usage forever. I’d love to see our generation of kids transition from kids to adults little by little without this chasm of kid today, adult tomorrow.
I believe how we parent in the arena of failure can help us raise adults who understand being an adult is a privilege and a gift rather than a curse of “adulting.”
I’m the mom who let her first grader forget his lunch at home and didn’t race back to the school to bring him one. I received a phone call from the teacher to see if I’d like to bring him lunch. We lived 30 minutes from the school. I’d already been in the car an hour. That would be another hour. Then another for pickup. He wouldn’t starve. He had begun developing a habit of forgetting, and food was important to this kiddo. He survived the day and never forgot his lunch again. To this day he does an incredible job of remembering his responsibilities.
I’m the mom who let her 3rd grader leave the house without a coat when it was 35 degrees because he insisted he wasn’t cold and he didn’t need one. I received a call from the teacher that he wouldn’t be allowed to play outside without a coat, and I gave my permission for him to be cold. He knows how to grab a coat with his backpack. This wasn’t a forgetfulness or a failure. He simply made a choice and was happy to live with the consequences of being cold. I decided I would be ok with that.
As our children are growing, they will make many childish decisions. This is normal and more than ok. When we allow them to make a wrong choice, we help them learn how to make better choices in the future.
When we jump in and tell them how to choose or what to do, we are sending a message that they are incapable of making good choices. We also send a message of fearing failure. By not allowing them to fail, we tell them failure is bad and should never happen, which can lead them in the future to fear making wrong choices to the point they always need others to help them.
Permission to Fail
My first boss would tell me in each review the area of growth to focus on was my decision making. I was so terrified of messing up that I would simply not make a decision and would go to others to find the answers. He told me he’d rather me make a wrong decision than become stuck in indecision. It was so freeing to know I had permission to mess up.
Likewise, we can tell our kids they have permission to fail. Free them up to fall and know that we will be there to help them back to their feet. Failure is often the best teacher.
Failure should not be something our kids fear. Instead it should be something they learn to learn from. Failure is normal and they should understand it is part of being a human.
We tell our kids over and over that we expect them to fail, to make poor choices, to mess up because they are human and are not perfect. We explain our hope for them is to learn to make good choices and learn to take advice in the process. A teachable spirit is of great value.
Now, this doesn’t mean we give children the ability to make decisions that we know could/will bring danger, harm, or life-altering circumstances. They can’t choose to not wear a seatbelt. They shouldn’t choose to become a boy when God created them a girl. They can’t choose to run in the street or with scissors. I’m simply referencing the simple choices that would only bring discomfort without changing their life.
Recently, I was the mom who let her son go to a pool party with no sunblock because he insisted he didn’t need any. This child rarely needs sunblock because he spends a great deal of time outdoors. I tried to warn him that swimming with a shirt off would invite a stinging burn. He was adamant. I made a decision to back off and let the natural consequence become his teacher.
He came home in pain. In fact, so much pain that he was unable to go to baseball practice or play golf with his dad and brothers the next evening. Initially, he refused to admit I had been right in instructing him to wear sunblock on skin that never sees the sun. But as the pain wore on throughout the day, his pride lost its footing and he admitted he should have taken my advice.
The last thing I wanted was an “I told you so” experience. But sometimes it’s the only way for a person to truly learn what is best for them. I explained that I only want the very best for him so when I give advice or loving instruction, it is just that…..loving and kind. It’s never meant to keep him from fun. It’s nearly always for his protection and good. Because of my age and experience with painful burns, I can see what he is unable to see.
I am reminded how God in His loving protection of us desires only our good. He instructs us with guidelines to follow in order to keep us safe and well. He sees what is impossible for us to see. When He warns us to stay away from something, it’s not to prohibit fun and enjoyment, it’s to keep us safe and well. But how often do we put our hands up to Him telling Him we know what is best and go our own way?
“So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own plans.” Psalm 81:12
Natural consequences are the very best teachers.
- They come with zero nagging.
- The lessons stick for a lifetime.
- It protects the relationship.
- It opens the doorway to meaningful conversations.
- It removes emotionalism.
- They learn to make their own choices and deal with the consequences.
No good and loving parent enjoys watching their child suffer. However, suffering is a part of life. Often suffering comes at the hands of our own choices and decisions.
What prevents parents from allowing kids to fail?
Many parents in our current parenting culture refuse to allow their kids to fail for many reasons.
- Sometimes it’s out of our own pride we won’t let them fail. What will other parents think of us?
- Sometimes it’s out of our deep love and compassion. We simply can’t bear watching them hurt.
- Sometimes it’s out of our own busyness. We don’t have the time to deal with the fallout.
- Sometimes it is out of passivity or laziness. We don’t want to take the time to deal with the mess left from their failures.
Regardless what the reasons are, it is for the good of our children to allow them to fail, to suffer, and to experience the consequences of their actions and choices without swooping in and saving them. It is part of our civic duty to raise responsible adults. And it is part of our God-given role to love them through their entire journey.
For more on the power of failure, read Dear Son, Why I Want You To Fail and Dear Boys, Why I Can’t Rescue You From Your Problems
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