You Can Do This Yourself

“You can do this yourself.”

These were the five words I most disliked hearing from my parents. Oh, I know, you can probably think of five worse words to hear. But these words meant that something I had asked them to do for me got turned around into something I had to do for myself.

And that, obviously, wasn’t what I wanted. If I had wanted to do it myself, I wouldn’t have asked them to do it in the first place! Like calling a coach to ask why I wasn’t playing as much as I thought I should be. Or settling an argument with a sibling. Or asking someone for a job.

The very point of my asking is that these were things that were uncomfortable, or hard, or inconvenient. Of course I could do them…I just didn’t want to.

I think that when it comes to parenting the things we don’t do for our children end up being as important as the things we do. We can sign them up for violin or soccer lessons, but we can’t practice for them. We can provide them with opportunities, but we can’t follow through for them.

Actually, we can. We can make sure they practice each and every day until both of us hate it. And we can follow through on opportunities and set all kinds of things up and take responsibility for making sure they happen. And maybe we feel better about ourselves for having such accomplished children, or at least for giving them things we didn’t have.

But guess what – the biggest thing we can give then, next to our love, is the ability to take responsibility for themselves and to learn the value of hard work. Because study after study after study shows that the ability to work long and hard for something you value is the number one predictor not just of success but also of happiness.

Just as importantly, it’s the one thing you can control. You can’t control how talented you are or what opportunities will come your way or what setbacks or tragedies life may deal you. But you can control how hard you’ll work in all of those situations.

Eventually, we won’t be there to make choices for our kids or to see to it that they’re doing everything they should be doing. So the question becomes, when is the best time to start teaching them to take responsibility for themselves so they can navigate the various crossroads of their lives with confidence? And the answer to that question is, quite simply, now.

As we’ve talked about before, we often think that our job as parents is to help our children be happy – and so we sign them up for things and take them places and do all kinds of things for them. But our job really is to help them grow into mature, confident adults who can work toward goals, accomplish things of value, and make a contribution to the world. Because happiness is not a goal, it’s a by-product, an outcome of living a life of purpose. And that kind of life takes drive, determination, and a whole lot of hard work.

So thanks, Mom and Dad. Because while I didn’t always like it at the time, I now see and value the wisdom of your knowing when there were things I was better off doing for myself.