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How We’ve Failed You

Every generation fails its sons and daughters in one way or another.  We Baby Boomers were raised by absentee dads.  We said to ourselves that we’d never make that mistake, so we’ve over-parented our own kids. As fathers, we knew that we should protect and provide.  Bu…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Every generation fails its sons and daughters in one way or another.  We Baby Boomers were raised by absentee dads.  We said to ourselves that we’d never make that mistake, so we’ve over-parented our own kids.

As fathers, we knew that we should protect and provide.  But we protected our kids from everything and we provided too many options. 

Young people, we have failed you in three specific ways:

1. We didn’t give you the gift of risk. 

We padded the corners on the tables.  When you fell, we rushed to catch you. If you looked like you might hurt yourself, we were there with safety nets.

As you grew older, we kept in constant contact when you were away. We didn’t let you fail and understand that it is normal and necessary. 

As a consequence, many of you struggle to make decisions and don’t know how to fail.  You back away from risk and struggle to commit.

2. We didn’t give you the gift of pain. 

Hoping to protect you, we shielded you from pain.  Not understanding that pain is legitimate and normal, we deprived you of what you needed to grow. 

We were your buddies – we loved you, but were afraid to teach you discipline.

The irony is, that despite our best efforts, we couldn’t shield you from pain.  You needed the legitimate pain of natural consequences.  When you touch a stove, you get burned.  But then you never touch it again.  Instead, we substituted the illegitimate pain of broken, inauthentic families.

3. We didn’t give you the gift of responsibility.   

In place of responsibility, we gave you options.  You came to expect something for nothing.  You were the center of our attention.  We gave you trophies just for participating.  We didn’t teach you how to commit to a thing and stick it out.

One of the defining characteristics of childhood is that children need protection and provision.  They are too weak to protect themselves. 

But by continuing to coddle you after you had become teenagers, we didn’t allow you the opportunity to test your muscles and build your strengths.  Instead, we indulged you and created in you the expectation that you could simultaneously be irresponsible and be an adult.  You cannot.

Out of the best of intentions, we delayed your progress.  We spoon-fed you when you were ready to feed yourself.  We rescued you when doing so gave you permission to repeat the same mistake without feeling the consequences.

But wait a second – hang on before you claim your “Get out of jail free card.” Does saying all this give you an excuse to wallow in your status?

NO!  You may be tempted to go there because we’ve coddled you so much that nothing is ever really your fault. 

Because we don’t give you responsibility, things are out of your control – they happen to you.  So when things go wrong, all you can ever be is a victim. 

It’s an insidious cycle that keeps you from growing up.

If you really want to become the best version of yourself, here’s my advice: Please, just resist the temptation and decide to take responsibility for your future from here on out.

Decide to give grace to your parents – it’s the very grace that you yourself will need from your own children when you make mistakes. Decide to exercise a statute of limitations.

What’s past is past. It was awful and it kept you from growing up. But, having diagnosed it, put it to bed and turn the page. It’s time to move on and finish the job of growing up.

Who knows how the parenting pendulum will swing when you are ready to have children?  How will you react to your parents’ failures?

For now, maybe the best place to start when we try to overprotect you is to say, “Mom, Dad, Thanks. You’re awesome, I’ve got this.”

We may argue. We may go through the motions of rescuing you again. Yet if we’re smart, we’ll bite our tongues and let you do what adults do when life is hard.

You were made for greatness. You were made to soar. But you’ve got to learn to fly first. And when you struggle, you may have to continue to coach us in our new habit of letting go.

When you do, here’s what will happen – we will stand down. After all, we both want the same thing, and that’s your success. And hey, what leverage do we have anyway?

When we see you flying, know that our hearts will be leaping within us. Know that we’ll be telling our friends, “That’s my baby there! Have you ever see anything so awesome in all your life?”

We can’t help ourselves. We really do love you more than we can express.

Comments (35)

  • Thank you for your wise words at this very moment. I have a new perspective and hope as we continue to be parents to adult children who are anxious to fly!

  • Good words to read! When our son, who is on the race, made the decision to go on the race, we received the message to “stand down” without him saying it! We know he is where he is supposed to be and are proud that he has made the decision to go on the race, it gives his dad and I a feeling of fulfilling the job that God gave us when he gave us children. We have two still at home and need to work on the “letting go” with them…it is just harder since they still live at home. Thanks for the blog!

  • That’s great to hear, Mary.

    How is Heather doing? I still remember that Valentine’s Day blog post she wrote. So sweet!

  • Thanks, Bob. I wanted to speak the truth, but be compassionate to both generations in the process. These are the tenderest of issues for us all…

  • You’re welcome, Cindy. I think it’s hardest on you moms. Your job is especially to love them unconditionally.

  • Excellent. Every parent of every child needs this message. We are depriving our children of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from overcoming struggle, which IS life. Keep posting this, repeatedly, everywhere. I intend to reiterate this to Chris on the PVT next month. He’s got this!

  • Thanks for the digital high five there, Carl.

    Hey – saw Allison this week. She and Travis are doing great!

  • Sometimes you read some blogs and wish you read then long before now. This is one of those. Not that it’s too late though, but my oh my, there’s much to unlearn and release here.

    Thanks Dad! Great piece.

  • Seth this is just stellar and spot on. While some of us had the “burdensome blessings” of experiencing pain and loss at an early age your assessment of current realities is sobering and encouraging. Like the first step of the Twelve Step journey we have to admit we are powerless and God alone can empower us to parent more responsibly. By the way having spent a good deal of time in your home you and Karen live out what you have articulated here. And we all know that often matters like this are “tensions we manage more than problems we solve.” Peace for your day…I’m sure there must be some where you feel like you are on a treadmill. 🙂

  • Right on Seth. You need to start compiling these blogs into a BOOK. Thanks for sharing such wisdom.

  • Virginia Pillsbury

    Wow – this did bring some tears and definitely resonated. I am guilty of a lot, no doubt, and have had a very healing talk about this with at least one of my children.
    My racer, Leslie Oxford, has type 1 diabetes and while I probably hovered over her longer than I should have, her father and I also knew that she needed to grow up not letting diabetes define or limit her. So we encouraged her to travel, to do study abroad and to do World Race. We know that she is exactly where she needs to be – sharing love. Thank you Seth!

  • Good for you, Virginia! Well done!

    I pray Leslie experiences everything that God has for her on the race.

  • Lorraine Bartolai

    Hi Seth, I’ve been reading your blog and have found your entries to be thought provoking and enjoyable…except for this entry. I see the many responses for this article are supportive and endorse your opinion, so I am going against the majority here and have decided as you state in point #1 to NOT “back away from risk”, so if I am viewed as an outspoken or overprotective parent, so be it. I don’t understand how you can form these opinions without knowing every individual’s experience. Is there scientific, empirical evidence to support your claims, or is this just your thoughts and life experiences that you choose to generalize to all parents and racers, past and present? I strongly disagree with this blog entry, while I do respect your opinions, I do not believe that your words are accurate and I take offense to your implications that all racers are a product of “inauthentic families” whose parents have “padded corners”, “coddle”, “spoon-fed” and “indulged” our children, “creating in” them “the expectation that” our children “could simultaneously be irresponsible and be an adult”. Finally, I ask you, how many racers and their families have you come to know? How much time have you spent with each racer and their family allowing you to draw conclusions that we are all “inauthentic”?

  • Lorraine – thanks for the response. You asked me some good questions, so here are a few answers.

    First of all, I sure don’t mean to imply that all racers come from inauthentic families. There are so many racers who come from great families. My apologies if what I said came across as all-inclusive. It wasn’t intended that way.

    I was painting with a broad brush based on my research and my experience. Perhaps I should have cited it in the post. I’ve coached 5 squads totaling over 200 racers over 8 years and have personally known or coached hundreds more. In addition, with my wife, we’ve raised five grown children and served on our school board. I’ve read extensively on the subject and have consulted with those far more well-read than me.

    As to research backing up my key points, there is plenty and I’ve been studying it since before the World Race. Some good books and articles:

    Yesterday: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/118747/ivy-league-schools-are-overrated-send-your-kids-elsewhere?utm_source=digg&utm_medium=email

    This was seminal: http://www.amazon.com/kindle/dp/B002LHRLO8/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_eos_detail

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/0578063557/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/02/the-culture-of-narcissism/

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Narcissism-Epidemic-Living-Entitlement-ebook/dp/B00256Z3AY/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001AO0GD6/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb

    Hope that helps.

  • Lorraine Bartolai

    Thanks Seth for your response. I admire your committment to training so many squads and investing in so many young men and women. My husband and I attended the January launch and it is quite evident that your staff and support team are caring and compassionate individuals who clearly endorse your passion and views. We received great support from these folks during those 3 days, as shortly after our arrival in Atlanta we learned that my mother had passed away. So it came to me as quite unsettling when I read your article as it appears to be inconsistent with my perception of your and AIM’s attitudes. Possibly you were commenting on the current trend in self-help literature which identifies our children as being part of the “me generation” providing a fix to overcome flawed parenting. I am hoping that your reference to Karyl McBride’s book was not ill-disposed.

    • Lorraine, that’s right. That is what I was commenting on. There is a lot of poor parenting out there that needs remediation. That assertion is supported by research.

      It is because I care and our staff cares that we share these trends and make recommendations about how parents can adjust their behavior to encourage their children and help them to mature. When they are given the opportunity to press into their issues, we have seen them respond wonderfully.

  • Thank you for reminding me that I am not all together crazy.

    I farm and feed cattle. My kids have responsibilities on the farm that preclude them from being in town every day for whatever may be going on to entertain them.

    We are told that we are too strict, and our kids need to be kids.

    Somehow 120 hours in the gym, and traveling ball teams is what being a kid is about in our area.

    When our kids do stupid, as we are all want to do at times, we do not shelter them from the pain of consequences.

    We hurt w/ them as they learn from their mistakes, but realize that we aren’t in the business of raising good kids. We want them to become responsible adults that own their actions and model Christ.

    No helmets, knee pads or padded seats at my place. Pain is the best teacher.

    Ultimately my kids will reach the age where they will choose how they live their lives. We pray that God draws them to His Son and they choose to live obedient lives that reflect the character of Jesus.

    Wes

  • I’m guessing that your kiddos are well-adjusted. It isn’t rocket science, but we’ve gotten so far away from that model.

  • This is such an important message!! I wanted to pin it on Pinterest on a board for my children and grandchildren, but your Pinterest button is not working, and I also could not upload it from Pinterest either. I would like to do that with several of your posts but can’t make it work.

  • Thanks, Rosie. I’ll see about getting it fixed.

    I wondered if you were Rosie Thomas, the singer. But I checked and she’s just 36 – probably not old enough for grandchildren.

  • Hahaaa, it happens often with the same name. My daughter and son-in-law are currently on F Squad, Team SOZO in Peru. I loved hearing you speak at Launch. Your vision and passion are inspiring. Thank you for your desire to impact this generation and the world. Your book is amazing too.

  • Just coming across this post now–better late than never. :^)

    This is absolutely dead-center… so good. I hope you don’t mind if I borrow your outline and add it to my bag of tricks…
    I hope you and your beautiful family are doing well.

  • OMGOODNESS SETH! Straight from your heart of wisdom to this Baby Boomer! Ooooh how I needed to hear this! Oh dear sweet man you have made me cry joy tears that have freed me from some chains! THANK YOU for allowing God to use you my dear!
    Beneita mom to Rachel Squad M Team Eliora!

    • Glad it spoke to you, Beneita. We all wear chains of different kinds and need help getting free! I need to ask the Lord to reveal to me those I’m still wearing.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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