We adorn ourselves in hats and boots these days, and something about fresh air in the morning makes me thankful for this season of school and mothering and wiping breakfast off of little chins. I’m thankful for new days, fresh starts, and the possibility each day holds.
This morning, we walked to the end of the driveway on a blanket of fresh snow, and I noticed Caleb’s boots were on the wrong feet again. He’s two and insists on dressing himself, just like his big sister. He gets it right about half the time, and the law of probability doesn’t let us down. Half the time, his little boot prints leave the marks of a seasoned boot wearer. The other half, his trail to the end of the driveway looks like someone put the wrong feet at the bottom of his legs.
I’ve decided to let it go and let my toddler wear his boots on the wrong feet. Letting go of control in this area brings a handful of important reminders to mind:
My children will fail at times in life. They’ll fail academic exams, fail in moral decisions, and give in to peer pressure when it matters. I know this because we all fail. We set career goals and fail to reach them. We set life goals and come up short. We cling to relational hopes that only disappoint.
The secret behind all this falling short is that our greatest failures often lead to our greatest seasons of growth. When I failed my driver’s test the first time, I became a master at parallel parking for the second round. When I failed my first written exam in fifth grade, I studied much harder for the next quiz. When I failed to treat a friend with kindness and respect, I completely changed my perspective and started treating her better. All these failures helped me grow as a person.
Caleb’s backwards boots might not bring this same level of life transformation, but simply allowing him to try and fail nudges him toward a more mature life.
Too often, we allow the success or failures of our children to determine our worth as parents. I see this as I watch the young mom who’s embarrassed by the energetic behavior of her three-year-old daughter. She apologizes profusely and leaves the party early, clearly horrified that everyone must be judging her parenting.
I see it in the mother of the 16-year-old boy experimenting with alcohol. She raised him to the best of her ability, and as he develops his own relationship with drinking, she fears his experimentation is a reflection on her parenting. Furthermore, she fears it’s deeper than this. Perhaps his behavior is a reflection of her inadequacies.
While it’s possible for our indifference or lack of discipline to result in our children’s negative behaviors, it’s also quite possible we did the best we could, and they are simply growing into their own skin. We don’t need to define ourselves by the behavior of our children.
It’s more difficult to walk when your shoes are on the wrong feet. Try it.
Part of the reason I allow Caleb to walk down the driveway this way is because I believe he’ll eventually learn that his boots feel better when correctly adorned. He does fall down more often. And he’s learning how boots on the wrong feet feel before we walk out the door, and this is progress. He’ll never learn to put them on correctly if his mother puts them on for him.
Is there an area where you’re struggling to watch your child fail? Perhaps it’s time to step in and offer a word of guidance. This is our job as parents. But possibly, it’s one of those opportunities to simply let him learn the lesson the hard way.
The final reason I don’t fix Caleb’s boots is to let him know that I’m proud of the big boy he is becoming. If I jump to correct his mistake every time he makes one, I’m communicating that his effort wasn’t good enough.
While there are times when the safety and general well-being of our children warrants an intervention, there are also times when imperfect is best left alone. Caleb is proud of his ability to step into his boots, and I’m letting him fully embrace it.
I don’t know where you’re struggling to release control in your son or daughter’s life. Maybe you have a wayward teen, and you’re longing to step in and intervene. Maybe your five-year-old insists on styling her hair independently every morning.
Whatever the case, there is a time to intervene and a time to let our children step out on their own. When wisdom says it’s alright to let this one go, may we learn to embrace our children’s imperfections and mistakes, smile in love, and wish them only the very best.