A safety net is typically a good thing. It’s good to have a savings for a rainy day. It’s helpful to have insurance for an emergency. A back up plan never hurt anyone.
Yet in parenting I sometimes feel like a failure.
There is no back up plan to my child’s healthy development. I feel like I’ve got to make every moment count. Every single moment. It’s overwhelming and unrealistic that my child believe every moment should have a wow factor.
In my angst to create a perfect childhood, I may be creating an invalid worldview on life for my child. Perhaps a little boredom, a little discontent, and little failure builds character. I am witnessing a whole generation of moms and dads that unknowingly refuse to let their child fail.
Yet, I can’t help but wonder…shouldn’t failure always be an option?
When I was young and being raised by my mother, who was single at the time, I walked to/from school by myself around 7 years old. I remember walking quite a distance and under a railroad track through a tunnel on my route home. I would see how loud my echo could reach.
Later, we moved homes, my route changed and I walked through about a half mile of wooded area. No houses, no visibility. Just me and the trees, and whatever creatures I envisioned were watching me.
I walked home to a locked door, that I unlocked with the house key I was in charge of never losing, locked the door behind me. The house was empty and I would make myself a snack to sit and eat.
Most days, I made good choices and would start on my homework right away. Other days, if I was feeling rebellious, I would turn on the TV and watch Duck Tales. I knew I had about two episodes worth before my mom would show up with my little brother from daycare.
My mom never asked me to see my homework, but some days she was tipped off by something—I have no idea what to this day—and she would walk over to the small tube TV and place her hand on the back. If it was warm, she knew I had been watching TV and then there would be consequences, as I was not supposed to watch TV if she wasn’t home.
Some days I failed as a kid to listen to my mom. I had consequences and life moved on.
Later when I was about 10 years old, we had a really big snowstorm and all the schools were closed. I stayed home and babysit my kindergarten-aged brother all day long.
My mom had to work and honestly I am not sure if it crossed her mind to even stay home with us. Society was different back in the 80’s.
I never remember being scared or angry that I was home alone. I do remember helping my brother into his snow gear and playing in our backyard building snow forts and snow angels.
I remember making hot chocolate for us after playing. I remember making mac and cheese (on the stove top!) for lunch. I probably left the kitchen a disaster (sorry mom)!
I remember my brother and I playing chess or board games to pass the time. TV wasn’t allowed. Somehow we would be entertained with each other’s company for 8 hours. My mom would call to check on us on the landline and I would call her upset if my little brother wasn’t listening to me.
Please know I am not advocating for you to leave your child at home alone all day so that they can learn life’s lessons. We live in different times now, but please also know…I had the best childhood! I am so lucky!
All this independence led me to learn how to make better choices, discern right from wrong, know shorter walking routes, understand my surroundings, how to cook small meals without a microwave, complete my work on time, and be ok entertaining myself.
I never had an opportunity to blame someone else for my failures, because all the decisions lay solely in my lap. I am a successful professional woman now because of all these mini mastery moments as a young girl that built my self confidence.
Now, as a mother of three, I personally face a battle of developing my children into independent members of society who move through the world in a positive way. Yet society pressures me to parent in a way that doesn’t allow my children to make their own decisions.
As an educator for 17 years, I see an abundance of parents who want the same thing as I do. But are we creating independence or co-dependence in our children?
I now witness kids so unaware of their surroundings that they cross the street without ever looking to the side for cars. They are so accommosed to adults in their life holding their hand (literally) or being the ones to say “Ok, now we can cross,” that they have never been taught how to determine on their own what is safe when crossing the street.
I now witness kids so unaware of their own accountability, that their first response is to blame someone else for a problem (lost item, backpack fallen to the floor, missed due date) rather than consider the possibility that they misplaced an item, didn’t hang up their backpack correctly on a slender hook, or didn’t do their homework in the time allotted. They have simply not been taught to make choices or determine time for themselves.
Safety is a good thing. Always. But failing can be a good thing too.
Failing in low risk situations can teach our children that natural consequences are a part of life. If you forget your jacket at home on a cold day, you will be cold; a jacket will not be delivered to your school.
These consequences that many of us are trying to save our children from experiencing, are actually the thing that builds their confidence in how the world works.
More importantly, it helps our children to know how to move through our world. Independently. Happily.