School Beat — November 11, 2009

Prepare your child to deal with life

by DOUG HOOGERLAND, Principal Crestwood Elementary School

Imagine your mother or father calling your college professor in hopes of learning the reason you earned a B- in Intro to Psychology, or calling your boss demanding to find out why you weren’t promoted, and then calling your dentist to find out why she chose not to use silver amalgam for your filling. Wouldn’t it be great to have our mom or dad take care of the issues we didn’t want to deal with in college or now, like scheduling routine appointments, securing student loans, calling repair services to take care of the car or the furnace, or even the dreaded filing of taxes? Or when we are sick, to have mom there, even now. I know when I am ill, I want my mom there taking care of me. Just her presence seems to make some of the hurt go away.

Nevertheless, isn’t there a point in our lives when it is time for our parents to hand over the reins; for us to take ownership and responsibility for our own lives? Is there a single age or is it little by little that our parents release their hold and hope they’ve done their jobs well? When do parents allow us to be independent? Exactly how are we supposed to know how to deal with all of the unpredictability that life throws at us, if they have never allowed us some control?

When does a parent’s control begin to interfere with their child’s future ability to learn from their own mistakes, find different or better ways to do things, find answers, discover, experience, learn, or make decisions? Of course parents need to be “in control” of their children, for example, to protect them, feed them nutritious meals, enforce bedtimes, say “no” when necessary, teach and model appropriate behaviors, and get them to the dentist whether the kids like it or not. But when is there too much parental control?

If our children are placed in situations or experiences where everything has been orchestrated by parents, how is it possible to learn the important aspects of growing up and gaining independence? A parent who rescues their child from a friendship conflict, a teacher they don’t like, or a mistake the child made, often consider their rescue as an “act of love.” Sometimes loving someone can mean allowing them to learn to do it better next time.

Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending how you view it—at some point our kids are going to be grown up and experience life on their own. We won’t always be there to guide them, and we can’t control every part of their day, saving them from every hurt and every disappointment, as much as we might like to. When control becomes intrusive to the natural consequences of everyday life, it undermines our children’s motivation, critical thinking skills, and ability to learn that life is not always fair and not always in our control. It is our job to be nurturing and supportive. But we must find balance between the nurturing and the letting go.

I’m guessing that, someday, like me, you will want your son or daughter to think and act and deal with life’s ups and downs. The ways we act and react now, will directly impact how they act and react later. As a parent, I hope that by the time my children are on their own, I will be able to say I’ve done my job. If I’ve done it well, they will be able to survive, adapt, and excel—without ME.

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