How can I learn to let go and watch my children make mistakes?
by Venerable Thubten Chodron
Q: How can I learn to let go and watch my children make mistakes? I want to let out of this suffering of worrying and nagging at them. — Concerned Mum
A: Good for you! When you worry and nag at your kids, you just create a lot of disturbances in your relationship with them. The kids won’t want to be around you because every time they are around you, you’re nagging at them, or worrying about them. So how do you let your kids make their own mistakes?
You realise that your job as a parent is to educate your children, teaching them good ethical values. By education, I mean teaching them how to be a good human being, how to be kind etc, and not just on subjects like Maths or English. You teach them how to deal with their frustration in situations where they cannot get what they want. That’s a very important life skill that parents need to teach their kids, because kids are going to experience that at some point in their lives.
So you teach them these skills and then you have to let go. You have to let them learn through their own experience. If we all look at our own lives, we can all see that sometimes we have to make mistakes in order to learn some very important lessons. Look at your own life experience, isn’t that true? Sometimes you had to do really stupid things to learn something very important. Maybe others tried very hard beforehand to tell you that it was a stupid thing to do but you couldn’t understand it. They talked until they were blue in the face, but you didn’t listen.
We all had to go through such experience. Only with that experience did we realise that it was a mistake. As a parent, you may want to protect your children from the suffering of making mistakes but you can’t. That’s not your job. At some point, or at many different points as your children grow up, you have to let them make their own decisions and, through making mistakes, learn that they have to be responsible for their actions.
It is very important that children learn that they are responsible for their actions, that if they do certain things, certain results are going to come – not only karmic results in future lives but results even in this lifetime.
Sometimes your kids just have to make mistakes no matter what you do. You’ve given them the tools, so it’s better sometimes that you just sit back and let them try and develop their own wisdom. Maybe they’ll do well. Maybe they’ll make a mistake, but that’s the way they’ll learn.
Do you still remember how you were as a teenager or young adult? We thought and behaved like we knew everything. When our parents gave us advice, we thought, “Why are they giving me this piece of advice, when they’re not very smart themselves?”
But as we grow older and make mistakes, sometimes we see the wisdom in our parents’ advice. But at that time we couldn’t see it. The only way we learn is by making mistakes. Remember the times when you stopped worrying and nagging at your kids, and they went out and did something very well. You were surprised then how much you could trust your kids. So give your kids some credit and stop worrying about them. Learn to trust them. Have faith in their own wisdom that even if they make a mistake, they’ll learn and it’ll be good in the end. Also they may not necessarily make a mistake. They may do something very wise. So in fact sometimes your advice may not be the best thing for them. You have to give them that kind of space.