We Learn From the Tough Stuff

It wasn’t the answer I was expecting. “I think you’re old enough now to make some of your own decisions.” I remember looking at my dad and thinking, “Are you kidding? Just tell me what to do.” I didn’t really want to make this decision, but my parents suddenly thought I was capable—at 13—right or wrong, whatever I decided was it.

It wasn’t a life or death decision, but tough on the social life of a teenage girl. I was deciding between going on a field trip that would last until late evening or going to a friend’s dance recital that same evening. I had already told my friend yes when we found out about the field trip. Of course I picked the field trip. Twenty-six years later, I still feel bad for letting my friend down.

I made other bad decisions. I shed some tears over them. I learned my lesson.

I faced many situations I wished I didn’t have to face. How could I deal with the girl who kept picking on me? Why did I admit that I liked Billy Bentley? Why did Tiffany seem to like Beth more, and what could I do about it? How could I face a boy who just broke up with me?

Those struggles helped me to be brave later. They helped me to know that I did have limits and I could stand up for myself. That sometimes a friendly smile is the best revenge after being dumped. That saying good-bye to a toxic friendship is the best cure. That I do have morals. That I actually could start over again and again.

But being the parent, taking a step back and letting my kids make their own decisions, it’s tough. I want to protect them. Sometimes the Mama Bear advice I want to give isn’t appropriate. But my kids know what they need to do just like I figured it out when I was their age.

All these years, it’s been the tough stuff that I’ve learned the most from. The lesson is just getting to a decision.

I’ve seen my kids make some tough choices, whether they knew it or not. A friend who makes fun of you maybe isn’t the best friend. When my son got glasses and his friend made fun of them every day, I noticed he hung around that friend a lot less.

My daughter had a tough choice this week: dissect a fish or don’t. And that left me with a tough choice: encourage her to do it or don’t. She worried the smell would make her sick. She thought it was gross and said she wouldn’t do it. Stress and drama overshadowed what I thought was a great opportunity for a third grader. I told her that maybe she could just leave the option open.

Where do I draw the line at encouragement and telling her to try, and being too pushy and making her decisions? I thought of all those choices I had to make growing up. Sometimes I didn’t want to make them. But I did and I did OK.

She knows in her gut what’s right for her. In the end, I told her to do what she needed to do.

This week, she did dissect a fish. She showed herself what she can do. She showed me what she can do—and I never thought removing an eyeball was on that list. I certainly don’t like watching the struggle, but the growth makes a mom proud.

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “We Learn From the Tough Stuff

  1. I can see this is a hard thing. It’s hard to know to back up and hard to see your child upset with whatever they choose.
    I think you are right that in the end, there has to be a time when we do that and it’s best for them just it was best for you when your parents backed off at 13.

  2. To be aware of giving kids the option to sometimes choose is a HUGE part of parenting. Luckily you are present in thought about it.

    It does build character and I believe that it will help later in life. The important thing is that you are there for them to talk to and lean on. That is the best!!!

    I have a 16 year old girl and now I see that maybe we’ve done a bit too much for her. However, all is not lost we can still step back when having her choose between soccer practice and studying for exams. Stress is indeed a big part of her life and I know we would love to “make it all better for her” but the biggest gift is to teach her how to weigh her options and prioritize. She’s gonna need know how to do this when she goes off to college in a few years…. crazy stuff eye balls and all!

    Thanks for your blog, Sue

    • Thanks for your response, Sue. What you’ve pointed out is great though. Sometimes we mess up a little. Even as parents. And all is not lost. We figure it out. She’ll figure it out. I bet she knows more than you think.

  3. Oh, yes, straddling that line between over-protecting them and leaving them to their own decisions, even if we worry they’ll end up hurt, is a tough one. Whenever I’m tempted to step in, I remember that in a short time, my boys will be out on their own. I won’t be doing them any good if I don’t let them learn to navigate their own way. But that doesn’t make it any easier. Sigh.

  4. Very tough and it doesn’t get any easier.Little children, little problems. Big children, big problems.

  5. Lisa

    And I thought dissecting frogs was bad. At least we have a few years before we have to let them make all of their decisions.

  6. Amen, amen, amen! I love handing over these decisions to my kids. And frankly, I see some adult kids who can’t handle decisions because their parents are still in the background, hovering, making sure nothing too tough ever comes their way. It makes me want to bang my head into the wall.

  7. so true! so hard! good mama. :)

  8. Beautiful post, and I struggle with the same. I think sometimes, when did I learn this stuff? how is my 3rd grader going to learn it? Some days I think he never will, but if he won’t how did I. Parenting is definitely the hardest challenge I have ever faced…

  9. Well done. You ain’t no stink in’ helicopter!

    • Oh, I’ve been one, I certainly have. But I think the difference is that I am the kind of parent I need to be when I need to be. I’ve learned to relax a bit, listen to my kids a bit. ;)

  10. A thought-provoking post, Karen. I often see the flipside of that struggle that parents endure. There are those who shield their teenagers from everything (how dare you expect him to have his homework!!) and those who provide so little support and encouragement that the child is in danger (You can take a Greyhound to a city 3 hours north; you’re a big girl and mom is busy!). I know that good parenting is assessing the boundary lines on a daily basis.

    • Traci, I certainly won’t say that I never hover and never overreact because I do! There’s definitely a fine line. But there does come a time when you have to trust that you’ve taught your kids well and you trust them with their decisions. They’ll have no confidence if you don’t. As much as I don’t want to let my kids do hard things, I know it’s good for them. Also, I had parents who did it for me. That’s really the only way I know how to make it work for my own kids. Call me lucky. ;)

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