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.