Recognizing the importance of letting your child fail and watching it unfold in front of you are two very different things.
In my younger days of motherhood, I boldly touted the importance of letting your kid fail as an act of character building like it was no big whoop. Your child doesn’t make the team? That’s an important life lesson. Your child gets a poor grade on that haphazard, last-minute science project? That will teach him to do a better job next time. Your child mistreats a friend and gets left behind? That will teach him to handle friendships with care.
I’m here to tell you that eating my words is a meal I don’t enjoy.
As the mom of a new high schooler, I have moved on from helping with assignments and hand-holding through projects. This isn’t elementary school anymore, and middle school went by in a flash. Now, my role is to remind and remind again and offer one last boost of encouragement that mountains can be conquered as long as one’s prepared.
And then, I walk away and hold my breath. I allow the quizzes and tests and projects to unfold as they may. I look at scores and praise him when they’re good. When they’re not good, I unearth the consequences and question whether or not there was more I could’ve done. I’ve helped him study at times (note cards on the front porch, pop quiz questions in the car on the way to soccer practice), but on the whole, I’m endeavoring to do the thing I always said I’d do: Let him fail.
So far, it’s not been catastrophic.
However, I know my son well enough to know that he learns best through experience, and perhaps that means he will have to trudge through hard times more frequently than I’d prefer. As a mother, I want to prevent his heartache. As a 40-year-old woman who’s had her fair share of disappointments, I know the life lessons were worthwhile. Pain and discomfort are powerful teachers.
Like taking off the training wheels or letting your child jump in the deep end of the pool without a life vest, these are the tasks that feel impossible at the moment but are necessary for growth. Despite my current state, I still believe the allowance for risk is a tested truth in parenthood. We cannot carry our kids to adulthood. They must walk the road on their own two feet. We can hold their hands at times and point out the obstacles as they approach, but ultimately our young people have to do what we know works: learn the hard way.
This also means the opposite is true. When our kids succeed without our help, they earn and deserve full credit. They can show off scores and achievements without the caveat of admitting they received any outside help. This, too, is a powerful life lesson.
Ahead of me lie even more possibilities for heartache for my kids. There will be first dates and SATs, driver’s tests and money management. There will be weekend trips without parents and the inevitable moving away. There are myriad other scenarios I haven’t thought of yet. All of those things, particularly the unknowns, make me want to grab my kids and hold on.