Oscar WildeAs I look back at my youth, I usually end up with the same conclusion: “the fact that I survived into adulthood is amazing.” Regrets? I’m not sure I would call them regrets. All the foolish mistakes, wild adventures, and dumb decision I made growing up made me into the man I am today. If I’m completely honest, whatever wisdom I have now at this age is thanks to having been foolish during my youth. And then I look upon today’s youth and become saddened, not because of how they are, but rather because of how we are as parents.
My youth was made up off broken bones and a heart broken enough times to fill a Victorian library. It was made up of scars, physical and psychological, and enough secrets kept from the authority figures around me that I would have made any Italian Mobster proud. I learned that the world could be beautiful and devastating, uplifting and unforgiving, all at the same time. I took enough risks to believe myself invincible, yet the simplest things like walking up to a cute girl were terrifying. And it was all glorious, or at least as glorious as a tragic accident where the people involved survived could be.
It taught me that unknown roads lead to adventures, and adventures lead to unbelievable stories. It taught me that the only way I would to be heard was to speak up. It taught me that risk sometimes pans out while other times it meant getting hurt. And it taught me that with enough time, you can get over getting hurt. Scars meant bragging rights, respect can be earned by standing up for yourself, and knowing how to keep a secret forged loyalties.
Then I look at myself as a parent, as I know that my kids are now learning all those same lessons, and I find myself dealing with the personal terror of “letting go of the bike even if it means your kid falls down.” We tend want to keep our kids safe, take on the world’s horrors and dangers for them. We want to keep them safe while at the same time provide them the best tools for them to make something out of themselves. But are we really providing them the best tools when we never let them learn how to use these tools? No matter how many times my martial arts maestro told me to keep my guard up, I never really did it till after I got hit… hard… several times… on the face.
People don’t learn by being told what to do, but rather by being allowed to do. They’ll learn even when they fail. This is especially true when they also learn what can go wrong by not doing. The lessons you learn best are usually the one that cost you. Yet we constantly try to keep our kids from learning that way, in a misguided sense of parental protection.
You can’t complain about a man who doesn’t know how to basic car maintenance, when you bought him a new car when he was 16. You can’t complain about a man who doesn’t know how to keep up a house if you never asked him to even take care of his room. You can’t complain about a man who’s entitled if you constantly keep bailing him out of trouble. We can’t really complain about men who can’t handle life’s challenges without calling out a parent who never let the kid face challenges by himself.
So, what can you do to prepare your kid for a stern world? All you can do is mentor them and become an example for them to emulate. All you can do is provide them with the tools they might need along their way. And at the end, all you can do is really hope it was enough and pray for the best while trying to be emotionally ready to let them learn from their mistakes.