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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

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.

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