Yes, it feels good as a parent to be able to take care of your children – but at what point does it begin to hurt them, and prevent them from developing the capability to take care of themselves as young adults in the “real” world?
This past weekend was a big one in our house. After one year of saving, researching and work, sweat and tears, my twelve-year-old son Max bought his first Enduro race mountain bike. This was not an easy journey, especially the last couple of weeks when it looked like he may not be able to hit the desired goal in time for the biking season.
There were many instances it would’ve been far easier for me to give in and buy it for him. It certainly would’ve been easier on my heartstrings, patience and ego too. Thankfully, I’ve read enough solid research on the importance of developing focus and grit, the dangers of the entitlement attitude, and the power of goal setting, that I felt letting him earn it was the right thing to do. Through writing these blogs and the Wela Way resources, I’ve also had the opportunity to hear many real-life stories demonstrating the importance of allowing your kids to experience age-appropriate responsibility and develop resilience – and the major pitfalls that can happen when parents don’t. With those examples in mind, I knew it was the right thing to do.
The last week was the toughest, Max had to sell his BMX bike in order to make the last large chunk of money if he was to get the mountain bike he wanted at the beginning of this season. He decided he would make the commitment to mountain biking and put his BMX bike up for sale. He made the sign, took it to the BMX track for two cold windy nights (yes, I was there too) and had lots of people look at it – but no buyers. Wednesday night was a rough night after getting home from the track, he felt like he would never achieve his goal and was devastated to have to wait for another season and another 4-6 months of saving (can’t say I felt that peaceful either). Then he put his BMX bike up for sale online at the suggestion of a lady at the track (THANK YOU!) and Max was very fortunate a buyer came along within 24 hours.
That wasn’t the end of the story though – then the availability of the bike he wanted was in question. It was for sale by a pro racer in a town five hours away and was a model and size that was hard to come by, only one available on the pinkbike website, the other one was for sale in Oregon over a thousand miles away and had sold three days earlier. A brand new bike of this type was out of the question due to the massive retail price tag. The sky was falling, and the whole household felt it.
As Max waited to hear back from the racer to find out if the other interested buyer was going to take the bike or not, I suggested we try speaking to the people at the local bike shop just in case they knew something that could help. He agreed and Saturday morning we went in. In a fabulous twist of fate they had one bike that would fit him with the desired components, and because it was last year‘s design, even though it was brand new, it fit within his budget. The shock was overwhelming, he couldn’t believe it for hours. Within 30 minutes of purchasing it, he and his buddy we’re off climbing a mountain and using up all the incredible energy that had built up the last few days.
When we sat down to discuss the experience a couple of days later, I brought out the sign he had made with the picture of the dream bike. It had been hanging over his bed for a year and he had drawn a little line graph to keep track of his savings progress. I said, “Look, you can write whatever you want on this picture now showing that you reached your goal!”
He wrote, “I did it, I did it!“ Then I looked him in the eye and said: “do you know why I just had you do that?” He said, “to show you were right?” It was hard not to laugh. I said “No, I had you do that so you could really think and feel what you just accomplished, and realize that you can accomplish what you want in life. You have to stick with it, and you did. You really did do it, and it’s important you recognize that.“ A moment of quiet followed and he said “OK”, and went back to his beloved bike, to polish it and prepare for the next adventure.
In a world where instant gratification is so common, we as parents have to allow ourselves to say “no” – for the good of our children and their future. If desire “is the start of all achievement,” as Napoleon Hill famously said, what happens if we don’t allow our children to “want,” to set inspired goals and we take care of everything instead? Where does that energy go, and how do they learn they are capable? Most of us had to work at things as a child, and that’s what gave us confidence in ourselves, experiencing those little wins gave us the willingness to set bigger goals. So many young adults today aren’t given enough opportunities to have relevant life responsibilities which will prepare them for the real world. Yes, the giving is often out of love, but because of this, they often lack resilience, and the ability to deal with failure successfully themselves, to learn from it and move forward. They may grow up to believe they don’t have the capability to “make it happen” in their own lives – I’ve heard these stories firsthand and it’s heartbreaking.
When our children are little we give them help and fundamental needs from the point of view of “I love you, so here you are.“ We must remember to begin to shift that mindset as they grow to “I love you, so I’m going to let you do it yourself – because I know you can.” Then they will know they can too.