Recently, I was lucky enough to discover that East Coast based, New York Times Best-Selling author, Jessica Lahey, (FB: @jessicapottslahey, www.jessicalahey.com) was speaking a mere hour from my house (that’s like practically next door in LA terms!). I immediately cleared my calendar for that evening and drove excitedly over to hear her speak about her book (now in it’s 11th printing), The Gift of Failure (Harper).
It was a small gathering of 40-ish parents at the La Canada Elementary School library. Jessica, a middle school teacher and engaging storyteller, whose realization about the short-comings in her own parenting came to light while she was teaching middle school.
As with so many of us, it is so obvious what needs to be done when someone else has a problem, however, it’s perplexing that when we are struggling with how to find a solution for one of our own issues, we can’t see the forest for the trees. She says she had this epiphany about her own parenting short-comings as she was seeing many of the parents of her middle schoolers swooping in and “doing the work” for their children.
Whether it was a project which used language far beyond a middle schoolers vocabulary level (but quite on par with a college professor's, which a few of her students parents were) or it was merely over-involvement on homework or just consistent rescuing the child by racing the forgotten homework assignment over to the school so that they wouldn’t get a zero.
Jessica came home one afternoon to her then, 9 yr old, wearing rain boots three sizes too big, only to find out that he had worn his brother's boots to school that day (and missed playing in PE- his favorite subject) because he didn’t know yet how to tie his shoes!She said, “It just hit me hard. I realized all this time, I’m thinking I’m doing him a favor by taking care of this little thing for him so we can get out the door to school on time. So we sat down and you what, within an hour, he had it nailed.” Problem solved.
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We can all relate, right? I have said to myself in the past…. I would let my kids make their own lunches but it drives me crazy when I walk into the (formerly clean kitchen) and see the mac and cheese all over the stove, and the counter, and in the sink, along with the dirty pan used to make the mac and cheese. And don’t forget the spilled milk on the counter and the butter dish left out with a couple pieces of mac and cheese now soaking in it.
I decided to make peace with that butter dish and the cheesy stovetop. And here’s why.
Because today it may be the rain boots or the butter dish, but before we know it we’re going to be waking up and they are going to be gone. Out of our daily lives and off trying to conquer that big, scary, messy world.
No longer will it be only be rain boots or mac and cheese problems, thanks to us over-rescuing them for everything they do, they will be completely incapable of handling the stuff in life that really counts.
Last weekend, my husband and I were set to go away for the weekend for an event in Orange County. We did something we’ve never done before… we left the kids (ages 17, 14, and 11) home alone for the night.
I figured, the age-appropriate equivalent of Jessica’s "rain boot" story for me was testing the waters around empowering them to learn how to fend for themselves for 24 hours. I know, this isn’t a long time, and that’s why it’s so perfect. It's a baby-step. We need to take lots of them and so do they.
Before we left, we sat them down and we told them, “This is a test.” (Yes, just like those tests from the Emergency Broadcasting Systems. Remember those?)
We know that you are capable and competent and we’re excited to give you this opportunity to “go it alone for a night.” They all smiled and nodded in agreement, “We got this."
Throughout the course of the night at the event, my aunt kept asking me, “How are the kids doing?” I have to say, it actually felt really good to reply, “I don’t know. I left my phone in the hotel room!”
The following afternoon, when we returned home, I was absolutely floored by what I saw when I walked in.
The house was immaculate. And when I say my oldest child is not a tidy person, I mean that he has a gift at spreading clothes around a room faster than a gardener can spread Miracle Grow. Yet his room was spotless.
Once I picked my jaw up off the floor, I oh-so casually mentioned, “Thanks for cleaning up. Your room looks great.”
“Oh thanks, Mom. We all pitched in. It was no big deal.”
So I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised (but I am) when this week, he worked four hours on a English paper. In fact, he took it into his teacher TWICE for review with her prior to the deadline so he could make edits. Wha-wha?
This from a kid who crawled through Freshmen English with his eyes closed and phoned it in Sophomore year scraping by with barely a B. Hmm... so you're saying my kid wants to be empowered?
In fact, they are really asking us to let go. In 18 months, he will be gone from my watchful eye on a daily basis, anyway, so I might as well empower him now. He has figured out how to be successful by getting lots of coaching and feedback around what he's most passionate around, basketball. So it's our job, as his parents, to teach him that this approach can work in all facets of his life.
It’s not easy, and it doesn’t always go smoothly, but they will thank us for it later. Hopefully.
Do you have any stories to share about parenting a teen (could be school, sports or socially) and letting go? I’d love to hear them!
Much Love & Successful Parenting!
Gratitude of the week:
I had so much fun speaking to the 30+ high school students at ASLA, which is Matthew McConnaughey's Foundataion, Just Keep Livin'.
We talked about what it means to go after our biggest dreams and how to get there.
These kids have HUGE goals: Everything from curing Lupus (for a Mother who struggles with it) to attending Julliard.
Or, my personal favorite, from a Senior named, Sebastian, "I want to graduate from high school next spring. Not because I want to go to college, because most likely I won't, but because I know I'll be very proud of myself if I do. And that's what matters." Truth.