“Don’t prepare the path for the child; prepare the child for the path.” (Anon) That little saying was from a post on my favorite source of inspirations – the Jack’s Winning Words blog. Of course, Jack had some thoughts about the saying, so click on the link to read what he wrote.
I had an immediate reaction to this saying and it related to the ads that have been running lately for a new reality show on TV called “Bad Coaches” or something like that. The ad shows the kind of stupidity that goes on in peewee league football around the country, when out of control parents are in charge of “coaching” their grade school age children in organized sports. I guess it makes for good TV, at least if you’re into seeing 7-9 year old kids get concussions playing football and being told to “shake it off and get back in the game.” There are shows just as ridiculous about dance moms and child beauty contest moms pushing their young daughters beyond their capabilities and either injuring them in the process or setting them up for future injuries. I’m not a big fan of either, I’ll admit.
Back to the original thought behind today’s little saying; the intent is to focus more on teaching and using experiences as learning vehicles, rather than running so much interference in your child’s life that they never have the experience of failure or pain or loss. The term for that I believe is the “helicopter parents”; always hovering around their child in protection/prevention mode. What they end up preventing is the growth of the child both emotionally and intellectually. Eventually, of course, the child must venture off into the world by him/herself, whether it is in a school environment or some other setting. It is in those first frightening moments when mom or dad has let go of the back seat of their bicycle (sans training wheels for the first time) and they are on their own that may determine how they will do later in life. It is also determined by the parents’ ability to let go and see their child wobbling forward into independence.
There are many things in life that, like the first bicycle ride, cannot be explained completely in words or advice; they must be experienced. And, if the child falls down; it is the encouragement from parents to get back up and try again that is more important that rushing to see if there is a scrape or bruise. Mommy and daddy likely won’t be there the first time that the child receives a snub from someone at school or whose friendship is rejected or when they experience their first brush with prejudices or unfounded fears. However, the lessons that have been taught at home about love and forgiveness, understanding and politeness will all serve to lessen the bruise from that experience, as will the level of self-confidence that has been instilled by loving parents with the ability to let go.
So, if you have children of your own; reflect upon your preparations concerning them. Do you hover or do you try to teach and help them learn? Do you try to shelter them from life’s disappointments and mishaps or help them learn how to deal with them as they inevitably come along? Are you helping your child navigate the road to adulthood or trying to keep your baby with you for as long as possible? I’m reminded of more than one cartoon that I’ve seen about the differences in parenting (and hovering) that occur between baby number one and number three or four; perhaps you’ve seen them, too. Babies 3 and 4 actually get a better childhood experience out of the “benign neglect” that sets in with most parents. Somewhat like some houseplants, it’s all too easy to overwater and kill the plant and usually better to forget watering for a while, even if the plant suffers in the short term.
So, don’t hover, don’t over-water your children; let them fall down (and encourage them to get back up); let them encounter unpleasant social situations (but prepare them on how to react and recover); let them experience failures (but encourage them to learn from them and try again). Don’t act as if you are the Secret Service and your child is to be protected from every threat; act instead in the role of teacher and eventually as mentor to provide advice and encouragement on your child’s journey through life. You cannot be there like a co-pilot every step of the way; instead prepare them on how to read the instruments and teach the basics of flying and them let them fly away. At some point, they’ll be back to thank you.