I read something when I was a young mother that has stuck with me all these years: I don’t remember where I saw it, or who wrote it, but the gist of it was that a mother will never let her son go – his father is supposed to come and GET him.
I have found this to be true. It was Arthur who decreed Jack was old enough at 5 to walk across the giant field to school without his mama; it was Lance who over-ruled my edict that 13 was MUCH too young to take the cross-town bus to school. Of course both men were absolutely correct, and of course (if it were up to me or the boys) I’d still be driving them to college and/or high school.
A parent’s natural impulse is to help, but too often we help without being asked. We can only watch a child fiddling with something for so long before we say, “Here, let ME show you how to do that!” We snatch it away and demonstrate the thing’s use, smug in our adult capabilities, without realizing that we’re denying the child the chance to figure it out for himself.
We’re also sending the subtle, unintentional message that we don’t think they’re capable of doing things on their own. Of course this is the furthest thing from our minds, but the child notices, “Mom always has to do this for me, even though I TRY to do it. I must not be ABLE to do it,” and then he stops trying.
Is it any wonder we’re left frustrated by kids who (in our view) JUST WON’T TRY? We’ve crippled them trying to help them.
It’s much harder to keep a hands-off policy when the kids are nearly grown, because the stakes are so much higher. I really want to meddle in the insurance follow-up from that fender-bender, and give advice about that girl who won’t stop calling, and call the supervisor at work to DEMAND he make special allowances for someone who is really, really trying. Sometimes I have to tape my mouth shut and sit on my hands, but I butt out, because really what could I accomplish besides making my kids look weak? Trusting them to do the right thing is the biggest confidence boost I can give them.
I didn’t learn until the first kids were teenagers that it’s far better to bite my tongue and offer advice or help ONLY when they’ve been asked for. When they’re left to figure things out on their own, my children have proven to be much quicker and more creative than I have ever been, so I remember to ask THEM for advice or help occasionally, too. I comfort myself that this is me modeling correct behavior for my children, but what it boils down to is that they’re a lot smarter than I am and I’d do well to remember that, too.
Meantime, the new rule of thumb is: You have feet, a bike and a bus pass, Kid. YOU figure out how to get there.