I was reading a blog post by Dr. Robert Brooks, a Harvard Medical School professor and speaker and writer about parenting and building resilience in children, and was reminded of a time when my daughter was driving to a new music teacher’s house and got turned around. She had a cell phone, but no GPS. She called in tears and asked if she could just come home. I said no because she had a commitment to the teacher. Well, she drove for over an hour (in circles) until she called me again, I pulled out a map and told her how to get there- giving her every turn- until she arrived safely at her destination. She was frazzled to be sure, but she did it. I could have rescued her – gone to where she was and led the way or told her to come home and we would take care of it. But, for a person who finds directions challenging, she had to prove to herself that she could manage. And she did. It’s now a funny family story, and she uses her phone’s navigation programs like a pro. She is no better at figuring out directions, but has the confidence to use the tools she needs to help her in places near and far.
One of the most important jobs we can do for our children is to believe in them. They need to know that we are there when needed and that we trust them to handle the decisions they are faced with each day. We need to demonstrate confidence in their ability even when we may not feel it. Rescuing them puts the responsibility for their decisions and actions squarely on our shoulders. It also sends the not so subtle message that we don’t think they can manage and need us to handle their difficulties. I am almost certain that most parents do not believe this and want their children to be independent, resilient and able to negotiate good times and bad. To do that, we have to step back, perhaps fret quietly, and exude confidence that we may not feel. That is what builds the skills needed for them to manage their future goals and to rebound from disappointment.
I find that there is this uneasy moment when as a parent you realize you need to let go of the habit to look out for everything for your children, when time has come they need to experience more difficult situations by themselves. The line between the out of comfort zone and danger can be blurry. M is going to middle school next year, will probably have to walk by herself at a point, so she needs to be independent at crossing roads to begin with. A routine I could only resolve myself to set up recently!