Love by Allowing Kids to Fail…and Find Their Own Solutions... Without Mom and Dad Getting on Their Back

Today I received a huge “I know you love me, Mom,” from my 20 year old son. 

Nothing gushy-wooshy about it.  I allowed him to do things his way:  first to get himself into an awkward mess and then to find his own solution out of it. 

He expressed thanks for my confidence in him.

Our family tries to follow this Big Rule:   His problem...his consequences...his solution.

For the mother, it often means keeping quiet: no talk (either lectures or reprimands) and inaction.  Yikes!  Not even a pretense of control over a situation!

Bye bye Super-Hero Mom who zooms in to save a perilous situation.

Real Life Practice What I Preach

Our eldest son, now 20 years old, is off to work in the South of France (we live in Paris) for a month and I offered to take him to the train station since he is laden with luggage AND bike.

Twenty minutes before my estimated time of departure his room is silent.  “Darling, we should be leaving in 20 minutes.  What can I do to help?”

“I was planning on leaving in 50 minutes, no sweat!  To help you can _____.”

“You want to leave yourself lead time.  It’s your first time in this train station and with a bike.  Do give yourself more time.”

“I can handle it.”

A leisurely breakfast later, he is ready to go. n It's 15 minutes after his ETA and more than 1 hour after my proposed departure time.

Life Happened

He realized the world did not turn around him.  There is no Mary Poppins trick to loading a bike into a car; it required a few minutes of maneuvering.  There was traffic during rush hour.   A road we wanted to take was blocked off.    Life happened and time tick-tocked.

With every glitch we both kept focused on the next step.  We both refrained from negative talk (and hopefully thought):  No “I told you so” from me and neither “I’m such a dunce” from him.

When I finally dropped him off, his only hope for making the train was a delay in departure.  In this instance, the train left on time.

Implicitly, we had a plan B:  my son would devise one if he needed it.

Oh, and his cell phone is broken and he has not replaced it.

Gaining Perspective

Driving home I took deep breaths to release the tension.    Just because I was able to let my son manage life his way (and see him make mistakes) does not mean it was easy.  And the process continued... when would we have news from him next and what would it be?

Soon after I returned home he showed up.

He did miss his train.

HIS plan  B

He also came up with a viable and sufficiently attractive alternative, a night train which left in 12 hours.

The family enjoyed a relaxing (!) day together, so thankful for this son and brother’s unexpected company.

During the day, when we were all calm, we talked over the morning events.  “Mom, I am the one really responsible for being late.”  His comment led right into a discussion on “life margin.”

How Much Margin?

Living life on the edge without flexibility might sound exciting...until we miss the train (or plane or meeting or ...)   Life happens.  Amazingly, chance seems to fall to those who give themselves some margin.

It’s that extra 15-30 minutes for transportation.

Margin matters throughout the day and year.  It’s also taking additional pens for the test so that one is not disqualified for cheating when asking a neighbor to borrow one.  When the kids were small, it meant packing a box of cookies on family outings to avoid energy breakdown in case we ran late.


We also spoke of our insufficient and unspecific communication.  “I can handle it,” doesn't always cut it.

We had not confirmed ETA, transportation time, or tried to avoid last minute returns to pick up missing items.  Lack of communication leads to assumptions.  As my adventure-loving brother taught me, to assume makes an A.S.S. our of U and Me.

We agreed that thinking through situations out loud would be mutually respectful.  He could demonstrate his foresight; I could ask questions to help him identify additional issues.

Love Without Blame

When this child was a kid, it was easy to gush out, “I love you.”  Even then, I said it more often than he did.  Now that he’s a head taller than I am (and embracing a lovely girlfriend), this exchange can feel awkward.

After my son’s failure and subsequent success, he readily expressed his love for me.  He shared an SMS he wrote to his girlfriend (on my phone since his was still broken!)

“Hi, it’s me.  I missed it and they gave me a ticket for the night train which cost me 35€.  Yuck.  Thanks for having let me do things my way.  That’s how I learn.  :D”
“Oh S___(bleep).  It’s Mom that lets me do things my way, but I imagine you too....”

Thrive vs. Survive

Had I given my son lectures and been behind his back, my son would have survived.  By learning the lessons the hard way, he is in position to THRIVE.

In fact, life hit him hard again after the train ride.  Before reaching his destination, he had a flat tire!

No worries.  I always knew my son could get into trouble...we are now both fully confident he knows how to get out of it!

All because I did not do a thing—neither intervene nor nag.

For that, he called me a super mom :D !

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