“I got this”

I don’t know of anyone who would say they enjoy nagging or being nagged. As a parent of a teenager and a preteen, I catch my “gentle reminders” turning into outright nagging more than I care to admit. Having said that, I’d like to think I nag less than most. I received some invaluable parenting advice a few years ago which, while it often goes against my instincts as a mother, I’m grateful I heeded and wish more parents would also heed. The advice is simple, but not easy:

Allow your children to fail. Repeatedly.

The younger the child, the less severe the consequences of their failures. Let them fail in small ways when they’re young so they can understand cause and effect. For example, my youngest child is not a morning person. After several mornings of going into her room to wake her up and hearing “Five more minutes” from the mass beneath pillows and covers, I’d had enough. I called the school counselor and asked her if the school would have a problem with my child showing up at school in her pajamas. She assured me they would not. (Which I sort of figured would be the case since she’s the one who gave the “allow your children to fail” advice in the first place.)

That afternoon, I informed my daughter that in order to catch the school bus in the morning, we would be leaving at exactly 7:30 a.m. She could wake up at 6:45, get dressed, eat breakfast and have a few minutes to spare, or she could sleep until 7:27. Either way, she was walking out of the house at 7:30. Even if she was still in her pajamas. Guess who never missed the bus again? But that only worked because I was wholly committed to allowing her to board the bus in her PJs, and she knew that I was. Empty threats don’t carry much weight, especially with kids.

I’ve let my kids eat school provided cheese sandwiches because they left their lunch bags on the kitchen counter instead of dropping them off at school. They have received partial credit for late homework because I refused to bring it to them, despite their pleading phone calls from school. I don’t regret allowing my kids to fail in small ways. It’s taught them to be more responsible and independent.


There are times when the stakes are higher. And downright scary.

School doesn’t officially start for another week, but my 15 year-old son has already started attending football and marching band practice. He chose to do both, knowing that juggling both would be hard work. For the past 2 weeks, he has daily football practice for 2 hours followed by 4 hours of marching band. Not all of his time is spent outside in the August heat, but the majority of it is. He’s been told repeatedly by coaches, band directors and both his parents the importance of keeping hydrated. Not only during practices, but throughout the day. Was he heeding our advice? The few times I asked if he was getting enough water, his answer was always, “Mom, I’m not a 5 year old. I got this.” I honestly thought he was until last week when he complained of feeling weak and light-headed. I assumed it was the heat and suggested he stay indoors and rest when he wasn’t at practice.

It wasn’t until he stepped on the scale that we discovered that not only had he not been drinking enough water, but he was suffering from dehydration. The boy lost 15 pounds in a week! I temporarily abandoned my “allow them to fail” philosophy and followed my son around the house nagging him about drinking water. I even placed a gallon jug on the kitchen counter and told him he was to drink its contents every day. I think his drastic weight loss scared him into drinking water more than my nagging ever could, but I continued to nag him until I caught him refilling the gallon jug himself.

He’s regained all but 5 of the pounds he lost last week and is feeling back to his old self again. But this has been an important lesson for all of us. Pride, the desire to be self-sufficient or even the simple notion of not wanting to impose on others often lead us down the path of destruction. How often have we told our families, our friends and God “I got this. I don’t need any help.”

Love others and allow others to love you–through words and through actions, even if those actions sound like nagging. We were not meant to travel this journey alone.

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14 Responses to ““I got this””

  1. Ricky Anderson August 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    I’m looking forward the lessons Evan will learn by failing.

    • katdish August 20, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

      Oh, I’m sure you are Ricky Bobby. Poor little guy.

  2. SimplyDarlene August 20, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    Empty threats – what an oxymoron.

    I get slightly perturbed at mom’s in the grocery store line who say, “Just one more time, Johnny. Just one more time — I said stop your yelling/whining/pouting/pitching a hissy fit or you won’t get this bag of candy. (whine-whine-whine-whine) I said, one more time. Did you hear me? Well, I mean it this time. Here ya go. Have some candy. Now be quiet. I said BE QUIET!”

    Miss Kathy, I sure hope your son continues to recover. So, how does it work when there is a home game? Will he run from tooting’ his horn (or whatever he plays) to a huddle in his football uniform? He must be some kind of fast.

    let your yes be yes and your no be no

    • katdish August 20, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

      Band/football: The band only marches at varsity games, so he’ll have at least a couple of years before he has to choose between marching band and football.

  3. Berniece Richards August 20, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    Right on, Kathy. Good teaching strategy! I’m 100% behind you!

    • katdish August 20, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

      Thanks, Berniece.

  4. Karen Ritch August 20, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    That is the fine line we all have to follow. We want to make sure that when they do get pushed out of the nest that they actually fly.

  5. Megan Willome August 20, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    Yeah, I’m with you. It gets much harder when they’re teenagers. One of my mine is determined to do this alone. It is oh, so painful.

  6. Shawn Smucker August 21, 2012 at 7:48 am #

    I love this post. Thanks, Kathy.

  7. Laura C. Lorenzana (@ArchivalBiz) August 21, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    Wow. What a wake up call. I truly love your philosophy and like to believe that if I had children of my own, I would be right there with you. However, though I don’t have kids, this same advice can be applied to siblings, elderly parents and a wide variety of important people in our lives.

    My 45 year old cousin is in the hospital recovering from a near heart attack. His right coronary artery was 99% blocked. Quick response and incredible technology have saved his life. But, though he insists this was the ‘wake up call’ he needed to quit smoking and lead a healthier life, I wonder if he is equipped to do that. Do I nag? Do I cajole? Do I let him fail? Failing, in this case, isn’t an option, right?

    As I go about the process of helping him to get his life back on track, I’m going to be visualizing that gallon jug. Yes, I can fill it, but I can’t make him drink.

    • katdish August 21, 2012 at 10:03 am #

      Thanks, Laura. We can fill the jug, but we can’t make anyone drink. That’s a metaphor for so much of life. God gives us free will. We can only control so much. And so much less than what we’d like to control. For me, anyway.

  8. Jason Stasyszen August 21, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    Good example of how both sides work. I agree that we have to let them fail, but thankfully we don’t have to let them die either! God gave us a brain to figure out which one to use when. It sort of underscores the principles of Jesus too–the rules apply but if it means not showing compassion to someone (His version of compassion, not mere sympathy), leave the rules behind. Thanks Kat.

  9. floyd August 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    You sound like my wife. Our daughters have set their own alarm clocks since they were little and done their own laundry. When many of the parents were struggling to make sure the young kids were doing their homework properly, we were letting ours do it by themselves, only answering questions about methods, not giving them answers.

    Sometimes when I knew one of them forgot to set their alarm, I secretly made extra noise outside their room to wake them up… I never told them or my wife… Yeah, I guess I’m a softy…

    I’m with you on the life or death stuff though. With the humidity right now? I’d stand and watch them drink, at least they’ll be alive to be mad at us…

  10. jake August 30, 2012 at 12:16 am #

    Tell him that if he isn’t careful, he’s going to get kidney stones, which allegedly are worse than childbirth. I’d happily tell him about it. Dehydration is the biggest cause for the WORST pain anyone will ever experience. Just thinking about it makes me sick…

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