“When and why did we as parents turn into such enablers?”
This was a question that a friend of mine posed to a group of women, and mothers, who ranged in age from the mid-30s to 50 years old. As the conversation deepened, each of us recounted our upbringings and how we were often forced to learn hard lessons through failures, making mistakes and feeling the consequences.
The discussion was not too different from one that raged after The Washington Post published “I would love to teach but…” which touched on the educational implications of not allowing our children to fail or make mistakes.
I’ve talked to other friends, who are teachers, and they not only echo what was conveyed in the article but talk about other implications too. Like a child spilling something in a classroom of 10-11 year-olds and the children only standing there dumbfounded as to what to do next. They were essentially waiting on the adult to step in and take care of it rather than solving the problem themselves.
Then there was an instance when I had a teenager babysit and asked that he make the kids spaghetti for dinner. His response of, “How do you make the noodles?” amazed me. He was an upperclassman in high school and had no idea how to boil noodles because, as he honestly said, “My mom always cooks.”
Still, no one seems to recall precisely when and why parents went from advocate, protector and leader to enabler.
And you know… I get it. I get the desire to provide for my kids in ways that I didn’t have as a child. As parents, we want the best for our kids. I understand wanting to see your child happy and successful. However, sometimes I think it’s hard to realize that for our sons and daughters to get there, we have to let them experience failure and unhappiness.
I also understand coming in and just “doing it” because I can do it better and quicker than my kids. But in the end what is that really teaching them?
When I was interviewing parents for The Missing Pages of the Parent Handbook, there were many parents of older children who had enabled their kids. The moms and dads realized that in their quest to provide happiness and care for their children they had, in fact, enabled sometimes irresponsible behavior. As a consequence, other problems developed, some of which continued to plague them as these kids transitioned into adulthood.
I know that I want to raise healthy, happy and most importantly independent children. While it seems second nature to zip in and just take care of everything for them, or “fix” their mistakes, I think our biggest challenge as parents is to refrain where we can so that our kids can experience the realities of life. We can, and need to, still be their advocates, leaders and protectors but I think we also need to learn to express our love through allowing our kids to live through failures and resulting consequences. Otherwise, how else will they learn to survive?