There’s this thing I can do … it’s a thing many of us who came into our formative years in the 90’s can do … I can rap Vanilla Ice’s Ice, Ice Baby in its entirety. ::Takes a bow:: I’m proud of this and it comes out every now and again when the DJ gets to the 90’s section of a wedding. So when my sister got me a shirt that says “If there was a problem, yo I’ll solve it – Mom,” I put it on proudly. Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it.
When my daughter first saw the shirt, she read it and was confused. She said, “that’s not true. If there’s a problem, you always make us solve it.” And then my proud emoji grew. Yes! Yes I do make you solve your own problems! But, not without a healthy dose of guilt with a large side of self restraint.
You see, we, as moms, often rush to be the “problem solver.” It’s incredibly gratifying to fix something and feel the swells of love and thanks. This fills our mama buckets quickly. Simply put, it makes us feel good to rescue our children. But, here’s the deal, these rescues, however little they are, are not doing our children any favors long term.
Failure is necessary in order to succeed. And failing gracefully is not intuitive. It, like any other skill, requires practice. In order to allow for this practice, we, as parents, need to stop rescuing and interfering. Which is approximately 1000 times easier said than done.
This practice can take many forms. First, it’s important to stop giving unsolicited advice (“helping”) or controlling a child’s every move. For example, let them do a household chore “wrong.” Chances are they will notice their way isn’t working in which case you can offer gentle feedback and support their efforts. Is it the most efficient? Solid no. Is it faster to do it yourself? Hello! Yes! But does it teach your child autonomy and give them a chance to do some things wrong in a safe environment? Yes. Put a nickel in your “I’m raising independent kids” bank.
Another form of practice is not “rescuing” your children. Even children in kindergarten can be taught that they are responsible for their own school work/packing their school bag, etc. If we ask them twelve times if they remembered to put their folder in their backpack and on the thirteenth time, we just put it in, we’ve done them no favors. Instead, we’ve reinforced that they take no ownership of this responsibility. There are consequences in school for things like not bringing your work and when they experience this consequence, it may make them prioritize packing their folder independently.
Just yesterday, I intuitively went to stop a neighbor’s skateboard from rolling into the street. His mom didn’t skip a beat as she said “don’t stop it. Let it roll into the street and get hit.” Solidarity fist bump, neighbor Mama. You are so right, girl.
As children get older, this may take the form of leaving dutifully done, yet forgotten, homework on the kitchen table. The urge to run that homework to school and save the day will be strong, but restrain thyself, grasshopper. Saving the day helps no one but you. In middle school this may look like not signing a permission slip until your child brings it to your attention. Remember, this isn’t a reflection of you as a neglectful parent. This is empowering your children to become independent and responsible. In a perfect world, they won’t live with us forever (::sniff sniff tear::) In high school, perhaps you don’t fill the car with gas. See how many times they run out of gas a second time.
When your children make mistakes, you can help them understand and deal with the consequences. It is not our job to rescue our kids from consequences. Every word that comes out of our mouths, move that we make, decision that is made comes with consequences – good or bad. When understanding that consequences are part of the learning process, our kids come back better equipped and more confident in their abilities to deal with the consequences of their actions in the future. And, as a bonus, self reliance feels good!
Choice making is an incredible tool in practicing failure. My good friend told me this story about her 3 year old daughter. Her daughter would NOT get dressed for preschool. Repeatedly they had a fight about putting her clothes on before they left until one day, my friend said, “ok, let’s go.” She took her 3 year-old to the car, stark naked in the dead of winter, buckled her in, and drove her to school, all the while listening to the 3 year-old cry about how cold her “agina” was. She got dressed in the car before going into school. And got dressed the next day without issue. Not only did my friend not rescue her daughter, she let her know that in not getting dressed, she was making a choice to go to school naked. And ain’t nobody got time for nakedness in winter. This was not an opportunity for “I told you so” or nagging, but instead natural learning.
Parents who anticipate and come to expect failure value mistakes as much, or more, than they do successes. This allows for that support and love to shine through, even when mistakes happen. Failures do not lessen our love for our kids and they need to know that. As adults, mistakes happen daily. Can you imagine an adult screaming at you for spilling your coffee in the Starbucks line? But, I, personally, have been known to make a giant uproar over a spilled drink. Mom fail. I make mistakes daily (and sometimes hourly.) Some of my biggest successes have come only because I failed ten times first and this failure should be modeled and shared with my children. Now I eagerly soak up those little moments of failure. I wrote about a very prideful moment when my daughter failed a swim test here. The opportunity to practice failure in a controlled and loving environment is priceless.
Feelings of frustration and disappointment are the pits. Having your feelings hurt cuts to the core. And, as adults, we can rationalize through these feelings. Kids need practice feeling uncomfortable feels. They need to be left out in elementary school, so that when they see their friends together in cyber-land in middle school, they can acknowledge the hurt and use their strategies they’ve practiced to ease the pain. They need to be disappointed by others, events, and themselves and sit with that discomfort. We need to stop putting happiness first and foremost and know that teaching them to bathe in the “icky” feelings is as important as teaching them to tie their shoes, ride their bikes, and drive a car. And, we need to acknowledge these feelings and help them practice experiencing them.
So Mr. Ice had a lot of really great things to say. I mean “anything less than the best is a felony” … classic. But, he should probably stay out of solving other peoples’ problems. Fail to fail and, I would surmise, you fail to truly experience the successes life has to offer. Remember, mamas out there, it is our job to raise self reliant adults and that starts by empowering our young child to fail, fail, and fail again. Fail brilliantly and publicly today and pat yourself on your back when your offspring does the same.