Learning Lessons the Hard Way


As a self-professed control freak, raising kids has presented its fair share of challenges:

How do you find that balance between helping your children with things they aren’t ready for and yet teach them to do things for themselves? How do you determine what is an acceptable risk? What do you use as a guideline for letting your children make their own decisions, and possibly, mistakes?

It is tough as they yearn for more independence.

I think a lot of mothers can identify with the difficulty of cutting the cord. Both of my children are very headstrong, very sure of themselves and what they want.

I remember how my daughter when she was 5, would argue with me relentlessly about whether she needed to wear a coat when it was cold outside. It always turned into a frustrating standoff, with neither of us happy.

Until one day I decided to let her make the choice.

I had her stand on the front porch for about 5 minutes with no coat on. I could see her clearly through the window, so she was perfectly safe, but the door was closed so she felt as though she were on her own.

After I let her back inside, she said: “Yes, I think I will wear a coat today.”

It was a lightbulb moment for me. She just wanted to feel like her opinion mattered. She just wanted to be heard.

I realized that my job was not to shield her from the elements but to provide the shelter she could come back to. She and I established that Mommy and Daddy would make decisions that applied to safety and health, but other than that, we would always allow her to voice her opinion and try things out.

Fast forward to fourth grade.

My headstrong girl is doing great in school but really doesn’t like to study for math tests. REALLY doesn’t. My first instinct is to say “Suck it up Buttercup, you have to study.” It is hard for me to bite my tongue, but I’ve realized that tactic fails on two counts:

  1. It sets up an adversarial situation that is not going to end with anyone satisfied. Oh, joy.
  2. She misses an opportunity to police herself.

So instead, I present her the options clearly and leave the decision up to her.

Now ultimately, she may fail.

She may decide not to study and do poorly on her test. And I would hate that for her. But the bottom line is that if she fails, she is the one who has to deal with the consequences. Those consequences can be more than just one bad grade.

If our kids are not doing well in school, their extracurricular activities get cut. Those activities are a privilege that must be earned.

If they don’t do the things they HAVE to do, like getting decent grades, they don’t get to do the things they WANT to do.

We have tried this theory many times, in different capacities. And we have all learned that my girl does not like to fail. We’ve let her go that route, knowing full well what the consequences may be, and the results each time have been enough for her to make different choices the next time, lessons learned.

So does it make my stomach drop to see my daughter on the back of her father’s motorcycle? Yep.
Is it hard for me to keep my mouth shut when my son is climbing a bit too high for my liking? Totally.
Do I agonize over either of my children doing sloppy work that is below what they are capable of? Oh, man do I ever.

But I must let them take risks and make bad choices if they are going to learn.

Learn to be responsible, learn to deal with consequences, and learn their own limitations.

Sometimes we just have to learn lessons the hard way.