In an effort to raise capable kids, it seems like I’m the one that needs to learn the most.
Standing in the kitchen with scissors my daughter says with a scowl, “why don’t you just let me do things? I know if I’m doing something wrong, but I’m not, I’m just doing stuff. Why can’t I just do it without you telling me how?!!”
I walked away at first with a chuckle, because normally when she gives me attitude it just makes me laugh. But the smile quickly faded as I realized she was right. These words hit pretty hard.
See, my goal as a father isn’t to protect her and her sister from the world. My goal is to raise them to be capable in the world. I’ve always felt like I encourage them to do things for themselves, to take risks and push their boundaries. On several occasions when they were younger, I’ve received odd looks from other parents or even my own family when I don’t react to my kid falling. They need to learn to pick themselves up and brush it off. I believe that whole heartedly.
But, this one is accident prone, and I find myself increasingly trying to avoid the next one. Recently she managed to spill a full glass of whatever she was drinking…at every meal that day. It isn’t just meals though, it is everything. I’ve realized that as they have gotten older and the mistakes have gotten bigger, (knocking a sippy cup over vs spilling an entire glass of milk on the floor) I’ve become less and less interested in them learning on their own.
Worse yet, when she spills her drink, drops something she needs to be careful with or hits something off the table by accident, I see it on her face immediately. The fear. She’s anticipating my reaction. The idea I’ve trained her to this reaction makes my stomach turn.
But I realize trying to help her avoid making a mistake is not anywhere near teaching her to be capable. It’s actually teaching her the opposite. While many times the mistakes or accidents are preventable, my response isn’t encouraging her to learn. What I’m actually teaching her is that she isn’t capable, that she is clumsy and careless. Which is just reinforced by my response when she does make a mistake.
What she asked me is exactly right. Why can’t I just let her do things? Why can’t I let her learn through experience? Spills and accidents aren’t the end of the world.
This says far more about me as a father than it does anything else. I have a lot to learn.
Life is often about managing risk. There isn’t a way around that. While the things my daughters are learning to do on their own right now, require substantially less “risk” than the challenges they will face in their adult lives, now is the time for them to begin learning about managing risk.
Logically, I understand this. But emotionally, I need to be patient and realize every day is an opportunity to show them they can try more things and push themselves. While the downside is relatively small, it is a great time to teach them to accept risk.
The message that comes along with my reaction is that she isn’t capable, that she needs someone to do things for her and that isn’t the adult I want to her to be. Each day there are many things she is capable of, if I let her. She doesn’t need me to make her lunch or put her dishes in the sink or get her drink for dinner. They can manage all of that. And every day they do those independent tasks, they gain more belief in what they are capable on their own!
Doing things right the first time doesn’t build confidence, it sets unfair expectations. Giving her an opportunity for failure…even if that failure is dropping an entire box of cereal on the floor, is an opportunity to build confidence. Each time she accomplishes something she initially didn’t think she could, I can see the confidence grow. It translates into a quicker response to another opportunity to try something new. I’ve always recognized this and tried to thoughtfully challenge my daughters to do more. But as they have gotten older I’ve found myself giving less and less new opportunities.
Just when I think I have a handle on this whole parenting thing, they grow to a new stage and I have to get better. I expect this won’t be changing any time soon, or maybe ever. I’ve found the stages seem to get more difficult as we go, but I’m determined to succeed at raising capable adults. We have a long way to go!
Photo Credit: flickr/ruphag
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