The hardest part of parenting, #13: Letting Kids Learn From Their Mistakes

I chatted with a friend last week who is pretty sure she is not going to survive middle school with her daughter. As I listened, I found myself thinking and saying, “Isn’t that just the hardest thing about being a parent?” Except there wasn’t just one hardest thing, there were maybe 7, in that one conversation, with one friend.

There is way more than ONE hardest part of parenting. So I decided to write a (periodic and probably sporadic) series on the 26 hardest parts of parenting.*

The hardest part of parenting, #13: Letting Kids Learn From Their Mistakes

I am not naturally a helicopter mom, or prone to hovering, but just typing “let them learn from their mistakes” makes me feel anxious. I believe in natural consequences, and I think all kids learn better from experience than from words or lectures.

But the older my kids get, the harder I feel the temptation to rescue them from their mistakes. I think about the hard lessons I learned, socially and personally, and I don’t want my boys to have to learn the hard way.

When my kids were young, I did need to rescue them (sometimes). And when they didn’t know how to do something (or were doing it in a way that would harm themselves and others), it was my actual job to put my hands on theirs and show them how to do it, literally and figuratively.

But now that they are getting older, I know I need to take my hands off. If not immediately and all at once, then slowly and progressively as they approach the teenage years and adulthood.

The Selfie Podcast last week** had a great conversation about the healthy practice of detachment (which I was only vaguely familiar with.) The counselor they interviewed encouraged parents to provide their kids with a safe place to make mistakes and to fall. She talked about toddlers learning to walk: We remember that moment when our little one first took her hand off the coffee table. Not one of us steps in and shouts, “Don’t let go! You might fall!” We hold out our hands to them, inviting them to step away from safety, knowing they will fall. But knowing as well that falling is a natural part of learning to walk.

That is so easy and natural with toddlers learning to walk. But with school aged kids learning to make friends? With middle schoolers learning to take care of their bodies and responsibilities? With high schoolers applying to college and negotiating romantic relationships?

I seriously do not love that falling is part of learning to walk. I don’t love that failure is a necessary part of learning to be an adult.

Nearly every really important life lesson I’ve ever learned had to be learned the hard way. Why am I so driven to protect my children from “the hard way”?

I have to ask myself:

Where is the line between being a coach and a consultant, and being a nag, a helicopter parent, a rescuer?

Where does my son need a reminder to fulfill his responsibilities, and where am I acting like it is my homework, my test grade, my future on the line?

Where can I coach and help my boys learn about relationships, appropriate ways to treat  and value people? And where am I trying to shield and protect them from my own regrets and hardest lessons?

How can I provide a safe, loving, accepting environment for these precious future adults to learn from their mistakes?

How can I provide a soft place to land now, so that they can enter the wider world not afraid of making mistakes?



* I’m not sure there will actually be 26, but can’t rule it out. And I chose to start with 13 because #1 seems like it should be for real the hardest thing, and I’m not sure what I think that is yet.

** Selfie is a great podcast, but in this particular episode you need to know that before you get to the amazing self-care and parenting conversation on detachment, they have 30 minutes on pubic hair. Yep, you read that correctly. So if you’re not interested in the care and keeping of your nether regions (or if, like me, you never considered anything beyond going ahem au naturel, so you don’t want to think about wax or laser removal or clippers down there), skip to the 28 minute mark.


Photo in images by on Unsplash

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