Friday, October 31, 2014

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL:Parent dilemma: Is there a right way to let your children fail?

By AMY NEWMARK, Chicken Soup for the Soul | 7/18/2014

When Tim Brewster was a kid, he often told his father about new, harebrained ideas. In response, his father invariably said: “Hmm, sounds interesting. Let me know how it turns out.” His father was willing to take a step back and watch Tim work through the idea on his own. In his story “Thanks for Letting Me Fail,” published in our book about gratitude for our fathers, Tim wrote about how valuable this was and how hard it’s been for him to treat his own children the same way.

“It must have been painful to watch, because I tried a lot of stuff, and I failed at a lot of it,” Tim wrote. But today Tim doesn’t fear failure, which has enabled him to lead an adventurous life. He also has confidence in his ability to figure things out on his own.

When Tim Brewster was a kid, he often told his father about new, harebrained ideas. In response, his father invariably said: “Hmm, sounds interesting. Let me know how it turns out.” His father was willing to take a step back and watch Tim work through the idea on his own. In his story “Thanks for Letting Me Fail,” published in our book about gratitude for our fathers, Tim wrote about how valuable this was and how hard it’s been for him to treat his own children the same way.

“It must have been painful to watch, because I tried a lot of stuff, and I failed at a lot of it,” Tim wrote. But today Tim doesn’t fear failure, which has enabled him to lead an adventurous life. He also has confidence in his ability to figure things out on his own.

Tim had always thought that, like his father, he’d be able to give his children space and let them struggle on their own terms. But, he wrote, “I didn’t realize that my heart would break for them while I watched.” His children’s problems are always minor — “coloring outside the lines, putting tape on crooked or trying to jam the Barbie shoe on the wrong foot” — but they are opportunities to learn, which Tim is well aware of. Nevertheless, he has sometimes failed to resist the urge to intervene, which has led to an interesting discovery: Sometimes, “they actually might want to do it wrong,” he wrote. Perhaps the kids intuit the importance of figuring things out for themselves.

Tim’s getting better now at emulating his father. At a cross-country ski class, he watched his 7-year-old daughter fall repeatedly as she tried to climb a hill. “I kept taking a step forward, thinking, ‘OK, I’ll help her ... no, I better not.’” Then she figured out a way to crawl up the hill, giggling as she went. It wasn’t good skiing form, but she was excited that “she had conquered that hill.” For his part, Tim succeeded in giving his daughter space. The only downside, he wrote, was that his “lip still hurts from biting it.”

•••

Susie Bee always had trouble with people and never understood why. She had frequently lost friends and often endured painful situations after saying the wrong thing. As an adult, she learned about Asperger syndrome and sometimes wondered casually if she had it: At least that would explain all her social missteps. So, when her friends told her about an online quiz that was designed to detect Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of autism, she decided to take it. The quiz was not scientific and could not make a medical diagnosis, but it did suggest that she might indeed have Asperger’s. Soon, she confirmed this: She’d been living on the autism spectrum her entire life.

As she wrote in her story “Unexpected Gift,” published in our book about positive thinking, the realization led to a process of self-discovery and a new gift. Learning about Asperger’s was “fascinating, though disconcerting,” she wrote. As she researched the condition, “it was almost like reading my life story.”

At first, she felt relief: Asperger’s was an explanation for her differences. But she also felt despair for not having figured this out earlier in life, when more could have been done to help her cope with it.

However, she also discovered that Asperger’s had brought her a gift. Susie wrote that having Asperger’s made it easier for her to communicate with “neurotypicals” than it was for her friends with more severe forms of autism. As a result, she has become a bridge between these two worlds. When speaking to friends with autism, “I could talk about the way ‘others’ think and act and expect us to, because I had had to study it very carefully myself my entire life.” Also, unlike “neurotypicals,” she was able to explain these ideas to her friends with autism in an understandable way, in the way she had come to understand them herself.

By embracing her ability to serve as a bridge between friends, Susie overcame the despair of her original diagnosis. “And when I see it that way,” she wrote, “I weep with gratitude for this gift I was given.”

Syndicated by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, online at www.chickensoup.com

comments powered by Disqus