It’s not always easy to talk about parenting. It’s a lot like religion or politics—people prefer to avoid the topic in an effort not to offend someone. We fear we will appear judgmental or too opinionated. The common thought is that how you parent is a matter of personal preference. Is it?
I am of the opinion that parenting “takes a village.” I have seen it in my life and the lives of those around me. We should share our opinions, major wins, and epic failures with one another to help each other, not to judge. That being said, I am no expert. I’m learning as I go, epic fails and all. The awesome part is that with every fail, I also win because I learn something. The question is, however, am I giving my children the space to do the same?
Am I allowing them to fail so they can win?
When our children are young, it is our job to protect them. There is a multibillion dollar industry built on a parent’s need to protect their child. (Really, what did our parents use to cover up electrical sockets?) Just as we should, we protect our toddlers from dangerous objects, falling, or running out in the road. Their needs are great at young ages because they do not have the ability to protect themselves.
But what do we do once our children do have the ability to protect themselves? Our little babies turn into little people who are very capable of doing things on their own, yet as parents we still desire to do for them and protect them. However, my job as a parent is not only to protect, but to teach. There comes a point when my child must learn on his own.
The best way to learn is to do. One of the most important things I can teach my children is that they have the power of choice. It is vital for them to understand that the choices they make every day have an immediate effect on them and their circumstances.
How do I teach my child that the choices they make now impact them both immediately and in the future? Baby steps. We must give our children the ability to make choices early in life so that they have a safe place to fail.
Whether we realize it or not, when we provide a massive safety net for our children, we often give them no room for error. Their need to be rescued lessens as they get older, just as their choices get bigger and have larger impact. Of course we have to cover the electrical outlet for a one-year-old, but at some point we have to teach them why the outlet is covered. A preschooler needs to learn that when they hit a child and the child hits them back, they are experiencing an immediate result of their choice.
We tend to push the phrase, “Obey your parents!” It certainly makes a parent’s life easier if they can get a child to obey everything they say. We make the consequences of disobedience very clear and ride that rule as long as we can. But what happens when we are not there? What happens when my child is given the opportunity to make fun of someone, go to the party, have just one drink, take a hit, or pop a pill? Will he look to his dad and me (who are not there with him) to give him the answer and just obey? Or will he know, because he learned at a young age, that he has the power to choose and that every choice he makes has an effect on not only him, but also those around him?
Parents, I urge you to think about what your child can handle at their current age. As they get older, the number of choices they make and things they are responsible for will grow. So while we are still standing beside them to pick them up when they fall, let’s give them space to fail. We can be there to teach them and show them what they could have done differently. Then, when they get the wins, we can be there too. We can celebrate their right choices with them.
The best way to learn is to do. Let them do.