My husband and I let all of our children mess-up, make a big mistake that they would have to rescue themselves from—and every mistake had to do with driving a car. That makes perfect sense to me—getting into a car and driving away from house and home alone is the ultimate cutting of the cord.
Daughter Number One’s driver’s education teacher called to say he would pass her–but suggested we not let her drive. That was the puzzle message, the back-on-itself message. I hung up, gradually figuring it out–she would drive many more hours with her parents holding our breath–either because we were with her in the car, or letting her traverse a few blocks near home.
It worked and after college, she became the primary driver of my husband’s car, because her first job took her many miles from home. No accidents, no tickets, except misjudging the space between a garage wall and the car which took out his side mirror! She helped pay for it.
Daughter Number Two hit a tree driving a friend’s car. She babysat like crazy to be able to pay for the repairs. And all of these occurred under our radar. Okay. She was being responsible.
And then our youngest, our son, alone, driving to visit friends at the university got a major ticket, one that required losing his license for a while. A long story. But again, you mess up, and you truly learn.
Jessica Lahey has worked with many teenagers as an English, Latin, and writing teacher in middle and high school for over a decade. That gives her plenty of material for her latest book: THE GIFT OF FAILURE. And what she has to say is kind of a P.S. to my previous post about parents who go way beyond anything that is normal to protect their kids, lie for their kids, LIVE THEIR KID’S LIVES.
One reviewer of THE GIFT OF FAILURE, captures it this way and allows me to continue the DRIVING METAPHOR: …in Lahey’s book a picture emerges of childhood today unfolding the way a young person learns to drive, except the car is the kind with controls on both sides and the parent riding shotgun is quick to take the wheel outright rather than letting the kid figure it out. Together they arrive at the destination — college, the workplace or simply chronological adulthood — but the child was really just along for the ride.
With years of teaching experience behind her, Lahey concludes that parents rush in to prove and applaud their parenting skills. She writes: It’s a parent’s ego trip, but children pay the price. When parents try to engineer failure out of kids’ lives, kids feel incompetent, incapable, unworthy of trust and utterly dependent. They are unprepared when failures that happen out there, in the real world, carry far higher stakes.
As one reviewer wrote, in THE GIFT OF FAILURE, Lahey is acting as a whistleblower for kids and young adults. Except that it’s the parents who will probably read the book and ignore the message. Which is this–get out of the way.
Lahey writes about a student whose mother meets with Lahey not to discuss her very satisfactory performance, but to state that she feels her daughter has lost her passion for learning. As a former teacher, I can picture Lahey as she looks at this parent, wondering how she can tell her, yet not make a scene that SHE IS THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM. The mother has taken on the work of her daughter’s education. She has removed the challenge, the mystery, the anxiety that we all need to become a success. Lahey writes that she takes a big breath and tells the mother the truth.
WHAT COMES AFTER THE FAILURES AND DOUBTS? GROWTH
I believe that the mishaps, the poor judgements, the flash of adrenaline that is needed to move forward when you are scared and confused–all of that is the nurturing stuff, like water to a plant, that allows us and our children to grow. THINK BACK: how did you learn to drive or apply for a job or take care of a child or be responsible for another human? Did you mess up? I did and I learned. I hit the accelerator instead of the brake! Luckily there was no car in front of me. Enough said.
OUR THREE ADULTS TODAY
As a final comment, I sat down and wrote this last night, wrote that I believe I understand what my children are in love with in their lives today. And I’m not talking about a spouse. I’m talking about how they have saved themselves, their passions and beliefs–so that a part of them is moving forward into time.
One draws and creates green worlds that are sustainable as well as beautiful.
One writes from her very spirit, providing inspiration and a personal peace to others.
And one creates music, the pulse of a melody, his first impulse when work is done.
THE PRACTICAL AND THE MYSTERIOUS
As parents, we will never know all of our children’s thoughts, worries, decisions, regrets. It’s their lives. FINAL THOUGHT: the sooner we learn to let them LIVE THEIR LIVES, the better. And that means letting them MESS UP.
You might have to hold your breath now and again. I know I did. But in the end, THEY’RE GOOD!!
P.S. I found this in a previous blog. Thanks to Sara: The other lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change what you don’t own – meaning, if you blame others – people or circumstances – for your situation, you can’t change it because you’re saying it’s not within your control. Once I learned that, life really changed for the better.
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