I’m about to fling my baby bird out of the nest. My older son, Ethan, is headed to the wilds of middle school right after Labor Day, and I’m remembering a stark thought that I had in a pang of early motherhood. Shortly after Ethan turned a year old and was experimenting with walking away from me, I realized: If I do this parenting thing right, one day he won’t need me anymore. Then: Maybe I should screw it up.
“The problem is that we do eventually need to fling them out of the nest, but often they don’t have the skills to fly,” empathizes Jessica Lahey, a New Hampshire-based high school teacher and author of the upcoming book “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.”
“It’s important that we get our kids to the point where they don’t need us at all, and that’s really counter-intuitive,” she says. “Those moment-to-moment things that you do to save your kids—like when they’ve forgotten their homework on the table and you run it up to school for them? That’s going to end up biting them in the butt down the road.”
Sure, Lahey says, it might feel like you’re being a great parent in the moment, but in the end, it probably makes you feel better rather than helping your kid. “It doesn’t allow them to say, ‘Oh, crap. I forgot that homework on the table. What kind of system can I put in place so that doesn’t happen again?’ It makes it so that they don’t have to put a system in place.”
Lahey, who has two boys of her own (Finn, 10 and Ben, 15) says that the inspiration for her book came from the realization that that it was harder for her to teach the heavily overparented kids. In fact, she realized parents were getting in the way of their kids’ own learning. Lahey says this revelation informed her teaching style, but “it also forced me to look at my own parenting and say how am I complicit in this, too?”
So, for example, when her older son forgot to follow through on a dog-walking job that he’d promised a neighbor, Lahey resisted the temptation to step in and help him. “The dog peed and pooped all over the house. He was begging me to call the neighbor and explain and I said no, this is your responsibility.” Instead, he went through the process of regaining his neighbor’s trust, learned how to set reminders and use a calendar.
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