How I Learned to Let My Kids Learn Lessons the Hard Way

During a recent trip to the park, my daughter was sitting on a purple dinosaur. There was a little girl standing nearby waiting for the dinosaur like a diner stalking a table. With my first child, I would have already intervened. I wouldn’t have wanted the little girl or her mom to think my kid was a bad kid or a bad sharer. Either of those things would have meant I was a bad mom and I just couldn’t have that. So I would have jumped in and told my daughter she had to get off the dinosaur simply because the other girl wanted it. Instead I stood back and let things play out.

I’m not sure when the change occurred from me being a hovering helicopter mom to a laid back mom who lets things happen for better or worse. It was probably somewhere in between exhausting myself with my first child trying to get everything right and realizing I couldn’t manage two kids with the same intensity. I wanted to protect my first child from everything, especially pain. I didn’t want him to be perceived badly, I wanted him to be liked, and I wanted to stand between him and rejection or sadness. 

But with the birth of my second child, I started to see that my kids didn’t need me hovering over them all the time. I didn’t have the time to manage their every move. Thank goodness! Because I was able to see they were competent, capable kids who could make choices on their own. I made sure they were safe, but I stepped back when and where I could. This meant sometimes they were going to make good choices and sometimes they’d make choices that were not so good; but, they’d learn everything they needed to know by doing it themselves. There were major life lessons to be learned from me letting them learn the hard way.

So as I stood watching to see if my kid would give up the purple dinosaur, I wasn’t as worried as I used to be about how the little girl, or her mom, would see my kid. I want to raise my kids to be kind and nice people. I want them to be considerate and have good manners. But I also want to raise them to have the confidence to make decisions because they know what’s right, not because I tell them what’s right.

My daughter finally tired of the purple dinosaur and moved on so the other girl could have it. I was proud of her, but I know it won’t always go that way. Sometimes she’ll linger so another kid can’t have a chance. Sometimes she won’t, but she’ll learn the consequences of a decision in a way that my words could never teach her.

While my kids are learning the hard way, they’re going to get splinters and probably a broken bone or two. They’re probably in for some hurt feelings and a friend who rejects them. They might be lonely sometimes or have to apologize for saying something unkind. They’ll be liked sometimes and sometimes not. I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m happy about that.

So if you see me and my kids at the park and my kids aren’t sharing, you don’t have to wonder what kind of person raised them. I did. I may not be standing nearby telling them what to do, but I’m watching. And I’m helping them learn by letting them learn, even if that means they learn the hard way.