Kristina Beers: Let your children fail to help them learn

By Kristina Beers

Special to the Pioneer
I have often told people, as I and my children age, that parenting teens seems to be much, much harder than parenting toddlers. Those clear boundaries at 2 and 3 (no, we don’t cut doggies hair; we stay out of the dishwasher when you’re not helping mommy; no, we don’t play in the toilet; yes, we can read a story; yes, let’s go play outside) are not so clear at 18 and 20. There is more gray area and places that deserve fortitude and discernment before involvement.

Then there is the whole problem of getting involved: Do you or don’t you? The process for an adult boy to share a predicament with his parents typically runs the same course as going to the dentist for a toothache: It’s done as a last resort and usually costs a lot of money. Oftentimes, that currency involves a little heartache, too — especially for moms.

Like it or not, the reality is that they are flesh of our flesh and we (moms) hurt when our kids hurt. Letting son C learn his lesson about not taking care of financial aid as soon as he got his first email (rather than expecting it somehow to all magically get fixed on its own) and waiting on pins and needles to see if he can even register for the next semester is a very painful experience for the parents. We want to ‘fix it’ but know that is quite possibly the very thing we should not do. Especially when it’s a poignant moment of learning in his youthful adult life.

Observing your kid stumble and fall, whether it’s through bad choices, overlooking red flags, or even accidentally, causes some sleepless nights and anxiety-ridden days. I keep saying I’m getting too old for this, but I’m just getting started!

There’s the old adage about ‘cutting the apron strings’ and letting the children grow up. I’m a huge fan of that, in theory, and make my finest attempts with reality. I succeed, at times; but I fail often. Usually I find myself trying to impart some new-found wisdom on the boys still at home when we encounter a situation that the elders put themselves in. I can’t imagine it actually will make much difference since kids seem to have an inherent need to learn on their own. I think back to those toddler years and the little voice saying, “I do it, mommy.”

So I must. I must let him ‘do it.’ No lesson will ever be as strong as the one that life gives him. I would be doing him more harm by protecting him, or any of them, from failing as that is the tried and true way to learn: from mistakes. That does not make it any easier for me, as mom. In fact, it makes his lessons so much harder! But if I take it upon myself to ‘fix’ something, am I helping him? Or myself from feeling bad for him?

The latter, I believe, is what really transpires.

There isn’t much new under the sun — yes, we live in an incredible age with digital everything and the world literally at our fingertips — history will keep repeating itself. Even though I know how to take care of something (such as financial aid) right away, it becomes a new lesson for him to learn and I must allow that learning to occur — for his sake, not for mine. That seems to be the way things should be.

Kristina Beers lives in the Remus area with her husband and five sons. She shares her thoughts on parenting teenagers and young adults on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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