Parenting is enough to drive anyone crazy. Trying to raise good kids is an almost impossible task. How much more challenging, then, to not just be raising good kids but to look at laying a foundation for healthy adults. What is true for rearing children is also true for anyone in a position of influence. The essential goal in leading others is empowering them to self-awareness and self-governance.
Often, we are the biggest obstacles. We like to be needed, we miss it when our kids can’t do things without us. We become addicted to their dependency on us and, in a strange way, it makes us dependent on them.
Empowering those you are serving is about setting boundaries for yourself as well as for them. It is about being careful to remember that your whole self is not wrapped up in the role you occupy. Otherwise, when our kids start riding their bikes all over the world, we are lost and alone.
The terror in empowering our kids is not just that they must go out into the world, but that we must as well.
When I was about ten years old, my dad taught me how to ride a bike. Most of my friends were already doing it and it looked so easy. I was not a natural. In fact, I was sure I was the one kid in America immune to bike riding.
My dad ran through the mall parking lot, one hand on my seat and the other on my handlebars. I spun the pedals and felt like I was flying. But dad was really doing all the work.
“Ok, son, I’m going to let go this time.”
What?! “No, no, no,” I pled, grabbing his shirt collar in desperation.
He assured me and starting running, his hands firmly on the bike. We wobbled uneasily and I was sure I was heading to my death. He let go, I panicked, and me and the bike crashed hard. I cried. My leg bled.
“I can’t do it without you,” I wailed.
“Yes, you can,” he said patiently. “Get up, it’s time to try again.”
I screamed at him, calling him a monster and a tyrant and whatever else I could think of.
Afraid to Fail
In the end, I learned to stay on top of the bike. The new vehicle brought expanded freedom and exploration. If I thought I was flying before, with dad’s hands on the seat, it was nothing compared to this!
As an adult, I’m starting to understand how hard that must have been for my dad. How hard was it to see my fall and force me to get back up? How hard must it have been to let go of my bike, not knowing where I would steer it?
Parents are so afraid to let their kids fail that they keep them from succeeding. We don’t want our loved ones to get hurt. We don’t want them to suffer.
But suffering is how people grow. Parents are not meant to protect their kids forever. As hard as it is to watch our kids fail, it is a necessary element to empowerment. They need to be who they are. They need to make their choices. We cannot control that bike forever.
Setting the Stage
Parents are responsible for one phase of a human’s life: childhood. We are meant to keep our kids safe and to teach them how the world works.
It is necessary to guide the bike before you get to the letting go. Kids can’t just do it themselves from the beginning. This is why we set boundaries for our children, not just to keep them in line but to help them understand the value and necessity of setting boundaries themselves. We put them in risky and uncomfortable situations to help them learn about perseverance and commitment, so that when they reach adulthood, they are prepared for the complicated society we live in.
It is a delicate balance. Teens and parents, especially, struggle to find the fine line between obedience and empowerment.
In the end, leaders and parents are just stage setters. We are influencers helping to provide a background for others to make their best choices.