My teenage son, Ryan, is smart. Like, scary-smart. So when he started skipping homework assignments and getting lower grades, I did what any loving mama would do:
I started nagging and nudging him to do better.
And I don’t do anything half-assed, so obviously, I took “nudging” to Olympian levels.
- I logged into the school website to see which of his assignments were incomplete, so that I could remind (stalk) him, every night.
- I sent emails to his teachers to request extensions for late work.
- I tried to bribe him, punish him, reason with him, inspire him.
In fact, the only change was that he grew increasingly resentful of my “helpfulness,” while I grew increasingly frustrated (read: pissed and homicidal) with his lack of commitment.
And then one day, after yet another agonizing week of nagging and nudging and getting nowhere, I realized that the most loving, “helpful” thing I could do … was let him fail. Fast and hard.
If he wants to.
Now, that might sound completely cray — what kind of horrible mother would let her child fail? — but as hard as it is, it’s absolutely essential.
Because by micro-managing his schoolwork — by trying to “do high school” for him — I was preventing him from having a crucial experience:
The experience of dealing with the consequences of your actions.
Not the ‘artificial’ consequences imposed by your parents.
The real-world consequences.
With tears in my eyes, I sat my son down and told him:
“Dude! I’m worried about your grades, but I’m done nagging you to do better. That’s over. This is on you, now.
I’m here to support you — and if you want tutoring or advice or any kind of support, we can do that. But this is your responsibility, now.”
His eyes grew big and wide. He shrugged. He didn’t respond, right away. And nothing changed … right away.
But slowly, over the next few weeks, I noticed a shift. Small, but real.
He asked for a tutor.
And now — no matter what his report card says — I know that my son is growing up.
He’s learning to ask for what he needs, and take responsibility for his choices.
He’s not a failure — never was, never will be — and neither is his mama.
And that’s why I’m letting my teenager flunk out of high school. If he wants to. (Which he doesn’t. Thank god.)
Because it’s the only way that both of us will grow up.
P.S. If there someone in your life who you’ve been trying to “micro-manage?” A kid, a spouse, a friend, even an employee?
What would happen if you let them experience the benefits of failure?
Could you give them that gift?