I talk to a lot of amazing parents. I can literally feel how much they want their kids to have it all…to be happy, successful contributing young adults. I’ve never talked to a parent who didn’t want the best for their kid and wasn’t willing to pull out all stops to help. However, is it possible that that unbridled love for our kids is actually hurting them more than helping them?
During a coaching session, I asked a college student what he really wanted to do about a certain topic. After a long dead uncomfortable silence on the phone I pinged “Hello, are you still there?” A meek response. “Yeah.” So I repeated the question again. And his response really stopped me in my tracks.
“I really really don’t know. See I’ve never been sincerely asked what I really wanted to do. I’ve always been told by others, my parents, teachers, advisers what I should do to become successful and in their minds happy.”
This was a student who I knew loved and respected his parents and didn’t want to disappoint them. I knew he had amazing parents who dedicated their lives to helping their kid in any way that they could. But somehow all of this mutual love and respect had short changed the student.
I knew where we needed to focus our work. Our future sessions focused on helping him dig deep, and honestly struggle to find that internal core of who he wanted to be….not what, but who. From there he needed to hone that vision, strengthen his resolve and translate that into actions that he could take to become his unstoppable self. We were on a march of self-declaration and independence.
School staff tell me that parents need to stand down and let their kids discover and experience life for themselves. We need to let them develop life resiliency. I heard from parents that this is such a hyper competitive world, especially college admissions, that it’s too risky to let their kid fail and fall out of contention. They want to do everything to help their kid stay on track….although they realize this is a crazy and it is driving them crazy.
So I know that none of this is earth shattering new observations and I don’t have a magical pill. But what I can share is what I discovered about overriding my own loving parenting persona.
My daughter declared that she was going to run home from college…NYC to San Francisco…by herself with all of her needed belongings in a jogging stroller. My loving parenting needle was off the charts and my brain was working overtime on how to 1.change her mind or 2. Stop her. Here are just a few of my over parenting mind chatter:
- It’s impossible to run 26 miles per day for months. It will destroy her body. She’ll never be able to have kids
- It’s dangerous out there. She’s a 23 year old woman. Something or someone bad is going to happen. We won’t be able to sleep for months.
- She’ll miss the good job hiring window and will be unemployed… forever
- Where will she sleep, how will she finance this….We are done paying.
- Why, Why? Why!
So once I got my head to stop screaming at me, I realized that those fears were about me.
- I couldn’t run those miles,
- I was afraid of all the bad things in this world,
- I would be embarrassed that my Phi Beta Kappa daughter was unemployed
- I couldn’t envision such a large multi month adventure.
Bottom-line, I was too buttoned up and responsible to take several months off to run. This was crazy thinking that was about me and not about Christina.
My daughter was marching (or in her case running) to the beat of her own drummer. The experiences she would have: Good, bad and probably really ugly where hers…not mine. I could over parent her and rob her of that life defining experience BUT was that really the best thing for my daughter? If I truly truly wanted what was best for her it was to let her take charge of her life…scary, risky and failure prone as it may be. It was not for the faint of parenting hearts…and it wouldn’t stop us from worrying.
So off she ran completing 3128 miles of solo running in 150 days. She had terrible days and she had great days. There were times she wanted to quit, but she never did. In the end, this journey has defined who she will be for the rest of her life. UNSTOPPABLE. Which is exactly what I had hoped for my daughter….and myself.