I have always prided myself on being a good friend—the type of friend that seeks to protect those I care about from hurt, harm or danger—even self-inflicted hurt, harm, or danger. I was in no way prepared for the gigantic increase in those protective feelings when I became a MOTHER. The idea that my babies (now 21, 16 and 13) would feel even an ounce of pain or disappointment that I could not prevent was unfathomable to me.
That’s when the Mama Bear persona took over: I’m going to protect my children from everything that can harm them, and letting them fail is not an option. I was diligent with child-proofing and safety concerns.
So, I put covers in the outlets. I gave away furniture that had sharp edges and never left them alone in the tub or in their high chair. I had gates and locks on cabinets, door handles, and even the toilet seat (sometimes to my detriment.) It was my responsibility to keep them safe!
It was a long time before I knew that I was taking every responsibility onto myself. I had the pleasure of meeting Hal Runkel, a marriage and family therapist, and the words that he shared changed this Mama Bear’s life. He said, “You are responsible to your children, not for them.”
Huh, what?! Who they are is because of me, right??? That is the breeding ground for Mom Guilt. I had to make a major shift in my thinking. Yes, when they are infants and toddlers we have to be more diligent in our protections, but as they grow and develop, it’s our job to teach them how to make good decisions and wise choices for their lives.
Then, I remembered the lesson taught to me by my mother as I got older. I would ask my mother if I could go do something. Her response was, “Gena, I don’t want you to, but if you feel like you have to, go ahead.” Another, huh, what?! moment. I was asking for a clear yes or no answer. What she introduced into my life was natural and logical consequences—the old If/Then Theorem. If I go to the movies and behave well, good for me. If I go to the movies and act like an idiot, well, then I suffer the consequences. That changed my parenting life and the life of my boys. I realized letting my children fail sometimes was part of being a caring mom.
The first time I remember allowing a natural and logical consequence for my son was on a 3rd grade field trip. In K-2, I would check his backpack and agenda for things to sign. In order to support the teachers, we were asked to give our children a little more independence and responsibility. So, it was his responsibility to bring his agenda and field trip forms. I knew about the trip and reminded him to get me to sign the form. He did not get me to sign the form and consequently, he did not attend that field trip. Was that fun for me to see my child disappointed? No, but I had to teach him that there are rewards and consequences in life.
My son is now a junior in high school, preparing to make the decision on where to spend his college days. I hope by teaching him that he owns the responsibility for his actions and decisions EMPOWERS him to grow and protect HIS name and reputation and chart HIS own course for the future.
Are you in Mama Bear Mode? Are you keeping your child safe, or keeping your child from developing personal responsibility and being prepared for their future? Letting your child fail may be one of the best things you can do for them.