Letting Our Children Stumble (and Grow from It)
You all have been hearing from me a lot during the book study, and I wanted to give you a chance to hear some other voices from women who I both love and admire. They all have messages I know you’ll want to soak in deeply, so I’ll give them the spotlight through September.
You’ve heard her voice with me on Grit ‘n’ Grace, but I wanted to give you a written dose of my brilliant and fun friend, Cheri Gregory. Please welcome Cheri!
I swore I would never be an “After all I’ve done for you …” kind of mother who burdened her children with guilt.
I just wanted to be a loving mom who did nice things for her children.
Until I did nice things for them, and they failed to react with smiles of gratitude, that is. Or, worse yet, acted grumpy or upset, which was decidedly not in my plan.
I wanted to do nice things for my children so they would be happy … or at least that’s the story the People-Pleasing Bully told me. But with People-Pleasing running the show, it was impossible to tell truth from fiction.
It’s taken me years to realize that I didn’t care so much if my kids were happy. I did nice things for them mainly because I could not tolerate them being upset. I needed them to seem okay so I could feel okay.
When they weren’t happy, I didn’t want what was actually best for them. I wanted, and did, whatever would cause my own upset, triggered by their upset, to abate.
Thus, all the “favors” I did them. Thus, my resentment and bitterness. Thus, both my children floundering after they left home. All my “niceness” actually set them up for failure to launch.
I truly did not think of myself as a “helicopter parent” or “smother mother” or “stalker mom” during their high school years. But I was all of these. I jumped in to help too quickly. I didn’t let them fall flat on their faces. I didn’t let them pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and figure out what had happened let alone how to prevent it in the future.
Instead, I meddled, rushing in to cushion each fall.
My reasons were understandable: I had experienced inappropriate pain and disappointment as a child and a teenager, so I was determined to keep my children from suffering as I had. But in protecting them from the inappropriate pain and disappointment, I went overboard and tried to protect them from all pain and disappointment.
While my kids were in high school, I thought that my “involvement” would produce wonderfully high GPAs that would snag scholarships that would launch strong college careers.
I was wrong.
What happened is that both my kids snagged thousands of dollars worth of scholarships but lost them all during their first year. Both were kicked out of the Honors Program.
I’d created the nice illusion that all they had to do was show up, be their wonderful selves, and everything else would just happen. My daughter sank into a depression her freshman year when she discovered that, on her own, she could not figure out how to keep clean laundry in her drawers, let alone stay on top of homework, let alone keep the GPA to maintain her scholarships and remain in Honors. Jonathon, already an introvert, retreated into gaming for similar reasons.
I now wish they’d spent their final two years of high school as dorm students at the Christian boarding academy where I teach, instead of living at home. Getting away from me would have fostered greater independence. They would have learned many life skills and gained the maturity that comes from not having their own way all the time.
Yes, I would have missed them. But my job wasn’t to hold onto them as long as possible or keep them as comfortable as I could. My job was to facilitate their maturity and autonomy. Had I focused on that long-range goal, they would have been spared unnecessary pain and struggle their freshmen and sophomore years of college.
But People-Pleasing never let me think beyond the present. People-Pleasing kept me hyper-vigilantly alleviating the immediate discomfort of each moment. So when they struggled during their freshman year of college, I blamed them for wasting our money.
Because, of course, after all I’d done for them …
* * * * *
As God’s been leading me on this journey of breaking up with Perfect, I’ve found that Galatians 1:10 applies to all my relationships, including (and sometimes especially!) my relationships with my children:
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Pleasing God means breaking my snowplow parent habits of clearing the path in front of my kids. It means learning to let them experience necessary growing pains rather than protecting them, and myself, from discomfort. It means that I no longer work so hard to avoid disappointment but trust God to carry my children—and me—through through it.
And it means trading my “After all I’ve done for you…” martyr attitude for an intentional focus on all He’s done for us and is still doing in us.
Cheri Gregory is a teacher, speaker, author, and Certified Personality Trainer. She speaks and writes from the conviction that “how-to” works best in partnership with “heart, too.” Her goal is to equip women to relate and create with less drama, more delight.
Cheri is the co-author ofThe Cure for the “Perfect” Life: 12 Ways to Stop Trying Harder and Start Living Braver and the upcoming Overwhelmed: How to Quiet the Chaos and Restore Your Sanity.
Praise God for His Awesome Truth! Thank goodness for Jesus who taught us how to give to others and not stand in judgement of others in need. I totally understand as a Christian woman there is no benefits in a closed fist. Thank you Amy for this book I m sure who ever wins will truly be Blessed!!!! God Bless!
Amy — your November 4 devotion was fabulous.. Obviously God wanted me to listen to Him loud and clear because your same devotion was on Proverb 31 too. I needed to hear, “My responsibility isn’t in the receiving. My responsibility is in the giving!” Sometimes I hesitate to give because I don’t know what a homeless person or anyone else in need will do with the money.
I am 68 years old, live on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound, Washington. I thank God for you and your desire to teach other women.
Oh, Cheri, your post today, “Letting Our Children Stumble (and Grow from It)” touched me beyond belief! My three sons are adults now and I am happy that I did not smother them or stalk them. I was tempted but my husband did not allow me to be that “type” of mom. However, I have done the same to him. Now that we are retired, I have spent the first 3 1/2 years out of the past 4 years, trying to “people please” my husband into being happy. Just through Amy’s Breaking Up with Perfect, and now Lysa’s Uninvited, I am learning to “shut this door” and release unreasonable expectations. Thank you for your words of wisdom from Him who knows all.
What a great post. Exactly what I did and still try to do with adult children. Thank you for your insight and truth.
My mom usually picked me up when I failed but other times I had to tough things out. The experiences of life help us grow stronger and become better people. This world is tough but I am forever grateful for a little tough love.
Wow is this true! I had some pain as I was growing up and determined to not let my children experience pain. I made things easy for them. I bought them lots of “stuff”. I was a single parent for most of their lives so I was overwhelmed. And I was constantly reminding myself of why I wasn’t. As an adult now and a parent of 3 adults, I see the error of my ways. My children struggle. I made them greedy. But what I regret the most is that I didn’t realize that all the pain and brokenness of my childhood made me into the person I am today. By taking away all the brokenness and pain, they didn’t Learn to deal with it and get through it. I didn’t teach them that life isn’t perfect…it isn’t fair and how to deal with that and move on.
I was surprised to find that I’m not the only one who has been doing this! I’ve had a hard time knowing how to balance being there for my son but not smother him. He is in first year college, living 12 hours away from us. This is a really good thing because I have needed to let him go. This is probably what he needs to be able take responsibility for himself, and grow into the responsible independent young man he needs and wants to be.
Thank you for your honesty! You described the parenting style I struggle with exactly. You are such a blessing. I had to admit it’s about my discomfort, too, and that’s hard to accept but it’s true.
I have a long way to go but I am finding that as I am delivered and healed from pleasing people and codependency, I am more comfortable with making choices to let others…including my girls…accept the natural consequences of their actions.
One thing that helps me is when I remember that interfering with other people’s experiencing of life’s natural consequences (the good and bad results of our actions) isn’t loving, it’s me playing God. And when I play God I don’t let God BE God, plus I’m not any good at it!
I really appreciate the help and wisdom shares in Grit n Grace.
Thank you so much ❤️
Thank you for telling your story. As a high school counselor for many years, I tried to give parents permission to let their children “fail” sometimes in order to teach responsibility. I saw those students who made the transition from high school to post secondary education best as those from parents who “let go”. Our three girls worked during high school, maintained good grades and struggled at times. It was hard to watch, but paid off as all three have completed college, have families of their own and most importantly do not rely on us for financial support. Did we ever give in and do too much? Of course…sometimes, but it usually backfired, so we learned to let them find their way with God’s help. Many a night I fell asleep with the mantra:
Let Go and Let God
Beautifully written, and reassuring to know it’s not just me! Similar to what Cheri said, one of our assistant principals has a sign that reads “It’s our (parent/teachers/etc) job to prepare our children for the road, not prepare the road for our children.” As college application time rolled around for our daughter, we didn’t buy into the parental pressure that is almost more suffocating than the TEEN pressure. We talked to her about her plans, that we didn’t see her academic discipline strong enough to withstand the rigors of mainstream college, and she reluctantly agreed. We could have forced the hand, cajoled, helped with college applications, etc, but we wanted what was a good fit for her. When senior year was upon us and everyone was asking the usual “So where is your daughter applying?” we told them she was going to attend the local community college, figure out what she wants to pursue, visit the schools where her friends are and see what they are REALLY like when not on tour, and maybe transfer after a year or two. When talking about her friends moving into their dorms, rushing sororities, etc. – much to my delight – she breathed a sigh of relief and said with utter honesty – “I’m just not ready for all that right now. I’m so glad I’ve chosen this path.” I think we all too often define our worth as parents by how successful our kids are, but who is to say what the definition of success is? Just as there are many paths to the feet of Jesus on the cross, our children have many paths to walk to find their way in life. Thanks for the reminder that we have to encourage them to take the steps to get to their destination, and not worry about carrying them there, ourselves.
Thank you for writing this
Thank you for sharing your heart. Each word of it was myself. I have two amazing kids but so often feel like I failed them by always being there and doing everything for them. Never ever letting them struggle thru anything at all.
I can relate to all of this. I have done the same exact thing and I have been tearing myself up with the guilt of knowing that I was an enabler. But God has been giving me the scriptures and the words and this blog today to help me. I have a son who is going to prison he is 25 but has never had to face the consequences of his actions and as a mother this has been very hard on me but I am reminded everyday that God is in control of this situation not me and am so blessed to know that. I fight the advisory all the time but am growing stronger every day to fight back with Gods word.
My daughter also just went through this with college. She is a brilliant young woman and is figuring it all out and she is doing well and I have stopped smothering her but, still letting her know I love her.
Thanks for your transparency. I was and probably still am a hover-smother-mother! I am so thankful for God’s sovereignty, mercy, HIS plans and HIS grace to my girls despite my mothering!
I had never looked at my attitude towards my children as trying to please them and never in light of Galatians 1:10 .. . God spoke to my heart through your message this morning. I need to confess and move forward with a different attitude and outlook. Thank you for sharing from what God has taught you!
This really spoke to me. I have been and probably still am a mother smother but I try to love them and step back and trust them to God because I know he loves them more than me. Thank you for today’s eye-opening devotion. I work at a school and want to share this with so many moms who are not preparing their children for life because they do everything for their child and their child can’t do anything for themselves. I will be sharing your devotion with them.
I love this article! Your vulnerability & candidness is so needed in todays christian world! I truly grew up learning nothing as everything was done for me. I was an emotional invalid who reproduced children like me. I am an only child who’s mom did everything for me to please my father (all out of fear!) I carried this into my childrens lives and my ministry! Thank you so much for this article!
I am struggling with the empty nest right now. I have been a helicopter mom so to speak but mostly with my youngest son. He was the child who struggled with academics and seemed to need more help than my other two. Although I did not help him much with his school work I seemed to rescue him from other instances. Now he is on his own at a welding institute and I am constantly worried about him. My oldest son also worries about him. I cannot seem to give this to God and let Him keep it. I keep taking it back and crying more and more. This article really spoke to me but now its too late. What do you do after you have already failed them.
A wonderful example to share about doing too much for your children, and the problems that can result from our over-mothering effort. I see myself in these examples, and would love to learn more about loosening my grip on perfection. May God bless y’all and your ministry!
Thank you for being honest! I have taken a lot of flak over the years for being a parent who sent my kid’s off to church camp starting when they were in 1st grade and then taking summer long ministry trips in their high school years that eventually took them into other countries. Didn’t I worry over them? LOL, yes but isn’t God bigger than my sheltering wings? What can I teach them in my little next compared to what God can teach them in this big world? I have been a huge supporter of not doing my kid’s homework and letting them get C’s and sometimes worse too. Being a teacher myself, I knew their teacher would not really know they was not getting it if their grades did not show it; or it would be the natural consequence of not putting enough effort into what was important. I allowed them to learn from circumstances that I choose and would not have life altering consequences rather than fail later in something they will have to live with the rest of their life. It did not always work…. but all three of my adult children I am pleased with their life choices and are living out their lives in such a way God is using them more freely.
I also struggle with how much to help my son. He has some significant learning disabilities and does need more help. But… How much? That’s the conundrum. It doesn’t help that I’m a people pleaser and dad doesn’t tolerate upset. Oh my!
Such wise words. Thank you for your honesty. We successfully have launched one but have noticed we make life a little too comfortable for the 8 year old left at home. I’m going to work on examining my motives when I’m feeling uncomfortable about his discomfort!
This sounds a lot like me and my husband, wanting better for our children than we had. However, when I look back on various hardships in my young life, I know they molded me into a caring, hardworking, godly woman. Our children were well disciplined, but I often did “rescue” them from things that, as I look back, I should have let them get through on their own. They did (almost) have everything they wanted (thanks to their dad, who was also the tougher of the two parents), but were also taught to work hard for their own benefit and they are both saved and grew up knowing and loving Jesus. They both have now left home, one is working diligently to reach her goals of school, godliness, and happiness, the other finding out that life is tough on your own. He even commented to me the other day that he wished he had had it tougher growing up so he would have been better prepared for life!
Thankfully, God!!!! I lay them at God’s feet everyday, and trust His faithfulness to take care of our “children”. My husband and I both do this. Because, thankfully, He loves them more than we do, and He’s got an awesome plan for them that I stand firm on their achieving through His grace, power, and love.
It is comforting to know that we (my husband and I) are not alone in trying to do the best for our children and failing somewhat. And we didn’t do it in malice; we did all we did in love, just as you did. God understands that and will make right the mistakes we as parents make.
God bless you and your family and thank you again for this devotion, Mary Jean
Wanting more for my son – currently dealing with aftermath of him relapsing and I cared for his 7 yr old son- he is blaming me for child service intervention and refuses to let me take his son to counseling- looking for God’s wisdom and reading all I can to keep myself calm in the storms
Wow! I could see myself in every word.