The hardest part of parenting is to step back and allow your children to fail at something. It takes a fortitude that hurts. You want to just reach out and hug them and tell them what to do. All so they don’t feel pain. But, if your children are teenagers, or like my kids in general, telling them what to do is a sure fire way to get them to not do it.
Failing at something, or what I call a Reality Calibration, can be helpful. It can spur focus, determination, or simply more effort.
Reality Calibrations come all the time and aren’t failures per se. They’re reminders. You think you’ve done enough work on a school or work project only to find there’s far more work needed. Usually, at least for me personally, Reality Calibrations strike when I’ve made too many assumptions about something. I may have missed an important perspective. They can be humiliating, embarrassing, or just a plain nuisance. Either way the real culprit is you and your unrealistic expectations.
People need Reality Calibrations because they can teach something that success cannot: that life does not always work the way we want it to, that adaptability, to be able to respond effectively to changing circumstances, is vital. Children should be allowed to fail at relationships and other personal decisions. How else are they going to learn to navigate through society? Or respond effectively to school or work problems? If a parent always provides answers for their child then what does the child actually learn? They learn to rely on their parents for everything rather than to rely on themselves.
We’ve heard stories of parents accompanying their child to job interviews (if the child doesn’t get hired does the parent feel rejected, too?), or recently, parents paying others to write college or university entrance exams. If the goal of parenting is to raise children who can meet the demands of society (which I believe) then these types of actions are setting those children up for some overwhelming Reality Calibrations. Is there a link between helicopter parenting and increasing rates anxiety? Perhaps.
Sometimes Things Need to Be Difficult
Challenging your children will make them stronger, mentally and physically. And by challenge I do not mean constant haranguing and yelling to get them to push through the pain. Excessive pressure like that does no one any good. When I say challenge I mean getting them to question their assumptions and thinking. Our kids challenge our thinking and assumptions so, I think it only fair to do the same to them.
All three of my daughters play travel soccer, or Rep Soccer, as it’s known in Ontario. I’ve tried many little pithy sayings to get them to work harder. “Good things happen when you hustle.” Or my latest one, “The harder you work at practice the more fun games will be.” Mostly I try to highlight the positives in their games and practices.
The common denominator of my talks with them is that underlying everything is effort. Without effort you’ll stagnate. But, sometimes that lesson needs to be learned the hard way. Failure is a harsh teacher who’s lessons will be repeated until one learns. And that leads to the second part. If you don’t actively evaluate your mistakes, you won’t learn from them and you won’t grow. We need to learn not just what the mistake was, but how it came to be.
My Own Eye Opening Experience
I recently had a huge Reality Calibration and it has affected the way I see the world. After years of my wife and daughters constantly bugging me about getting my eyes checked, I did (only after 11 years). The optometrist advised I need glasses. Not just any glasses, but bifocals. Apart from suddenly feeling a little older I see everything clearer, crisper and more in 3D now. It was a needed Reality Calibration because I’ve not had a headache in months.
As a father I’ve made plenty of mistakes and I will make more. I hope to show my daughters that I can learn from those future mistakes. How else can I be a better father to them?