If you are anything like me, as a first time parent, I was terrified of messing up. Of doing everything wrong. Fear is a hard emotion to be vulnerable with, so it more often displays itself in the form of control. And although I didn’t intend for things to go this way, there I was, beginning the journey parenting out of fear when what I wanted to do was parent out of strength.
A number of years ago, a speaker at a conference I attended talked about raising tough kids. Although the name of the speaker is now long lost to me as too many years have gone by, her sweet wisdom stays with me and I am so thankful for her (and wish I could give her credit!). She began by saying: “If you want resilient children, you need to learn to be a resilient Mama.” Could fear-based parenting and confident strength exist in the same body? It didn’t seem like it. She presented a lot of information that day, but there were three specific truths that stuck out to me and have been a trusty guide.
Truth #1: Allow them to take calculated risks.
Just the word “risk” when it comes to my kids and my toes curl. No one wants anything to happen to their precious babies, but what is the alternative? Do we bubble wrap them for forever so that nothing touches them? That also means that they touch nothing. They. Touch. Nothing. They experience nothing outside of our reach. They learn very, very little. Instead we have them try “big kid things” in recoverable ways. For instance, earlier this summer our 10 year old went on a bike ride with our neighbor, Mrs. Shirley. She had never done this with someone other than Mom or Dad, but the likelihood of risk was low. They would be on quiet roads, the neighbor is an experienced rider with side mirrors to keep an eye on her, our daughter wore her helmet, was taught the hand signals and has been riding well since last summer and Mrs. Shirley has my phone number. It was a little anxiety producing to see her ride away with someone other than us, but I was not going to smear my anxiety all over her new, exciting experience. I was not going to take away her strength.
She came back perfectly intact and they had a great time! She fell a bit once, but handled it just fine by herself. It’s not as if we’re going to send her across the 1-74 Bridge now, but this was a calculated risk that allowed for independence, learning and deepening of a relationship outside of us. Are there new things your kids could try that are “recoverable?” That would build their emotional strength and intelligence? Depending on their age and maturity level, maybe it’s ok for your kiddo to learn to use a steak knife, do their own laundry, stay home by themselves for a short time, use the stove or some other reasonable activity? Is there something they are yearning to learn? It would be fun to ask them.
Your child may have a wish in their heart that you don’t yet know about.
Truth #2: Preparing the path for the child communicates that you don’t trust them and they shouldn’t trust themselves.
This truth very much dovetails the last. We fail our kids if we pretend to allow risks, but then micromanage every upcoming moment of it before they begin. How ingenuine does that feel to the child? “Mom, you said I could do it, but…..now YOU’RE doing it for me.” Ouch. The sociological concept of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy plays well here, which says the expectations that we verballize of others eventually become the expectations they hold for themselves. So if we communicate to our child, both verbally and non-verbally, that we don’t trust them then they learn to not trust themselves. They may try less, exhibit less self-confidence and believe things about themselves that are not true. Your son may really be an avid climber and do just fine hiking more challenging trails. But can he trust himself to try? And if he can’t, what can be done to encourage him without preparing the trail for him.
Some questions we can use with our kids so that they learn to think critically and prepare themselves would be things like: “If you run into trouble, what is your plan”, “How do you feel about this _____”, “Is there anything you need to know before you ________”, “Do you know why I think you can do this?” “Do you have any questions for me?”
Truth #3: Don’t go looking for bad news. If it’s there, it will find you.
Just as with other human children, our kids are not perfect. So it is tempting to pick the brain of every teacher, coach, parent friend, etc. about what their behavior was like or how they are performing while away from our watch. If we go looking for data, we will find it, but it’s very possible that we don’t need all of it. Because once we have it, we will analyze it to death until we’ve created a scenario in our head that is so much worse than reality. My daughter’s wonderful third grade teacher once lovingly assured me that “Grace is capable and she & I will work out whatever I need her to do. We will of course tell you when we need your help.” This granted me such beautiful freedom to trust my growing daughter to navigate the responsibilities and relationships in her life, knowing that when I was needed, I’d be signaled. Our relationship has improved so much over the years because I no longer need to control her every outcome. I don’t know about every last behavior–only the important ones–so there is less to lecture.
It seems that there is so much for us to be afraid of these days and it would be so tempting to teach our children to hide. It would ensure their safety, but do we want to raise ‘safe’ or do we want to raise ‘durable’? I’m not advocating that we throw caution to the wind and encourage irresponsibility in our young ones. But, we do need to teach them how to stand strong in a world full of storms. Even if we shelter them from this difficult thing, there will be another and what if we’re not there to protect them from it. Can they withstand? Are they building their own strength or only borrowing ours?
No. Let them have their own. Let them build it and earn it. May they be like arrows in the bow of a mighty warrior (Psalm 127:4-5). And may WE be the ones who train them up in the way of strength (Proverbs 22:6)!
Need a reminder that our kids mistakes do not equal our failures? Click here!
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