Letting people experience the consequences of their actions is the loving thing to do. Rescuing people interferes with the lesson plan in the classroom we call life.
Sarah wishes she would have had that valuable piece of information when her son, Colby, was a toddler. But today he’s 22, and she’s paying a hefty price for habitually sheltering him throughout the years.
Colby is notorious for mismanaging money, and Sarah is equally notorious for bailing him out. He always promises to pay her back but fails to deliver. Invariably, Sarah seethes with resentment over having her trust betrayed. And as for Colby, he doesn’t grow up.
Instead of learning from his mistakes, Colby repeats them. For example, he has wrecked more than one vehicle, resulting in costly repairs. But he doesn’t pay for the damages—Sarah does. So by escaping the full brunt of his reckless driving, he misses out on the lesson.
When she’s not rescuing him financially, she begrudgingly assumes other responsibilities that should fall squarely in Colby’s lap. These include doing his laundry, cleaning up after him, balancing his checkbook, setting and reminding him of his appointments.
“I’m disappointed in him,” she said. “It took me a long time to admit that to myself.”
Who he is today doesn’t match the dreams she’s carried around in her head and heart. “I have trouble saying this,” she continued, “but I just don’t respect him, and I don’t like the person he’s turned out to be.”
She described his most disturbing personality traits: “He’s rude, self-absorbed and insensitive. He doesn’t care who he hurts. He has a nasty mouth and a nasty temper. He can’t hold a steady job. If he gets annoyed with someone at work, even his boss, he blows up and either gets fired or quits. He uses people, including his best friends.”
There are exceptions, Sarah noted. “He’s nice when he wants something,” she said.
Tired of having “sucker” stamped on her forehead, Sarah sought my advice. I asked her why she continues to overindulge him. “I would feel guilty turning my back on him,” she said. “And no matter what he does, I should love him unconditionally.”
So if Sarah stopped bailing him out, she would equate such action with being hurtful and neglectful.
I told her that letting someone struggle isn’t the same as neglect, and unconditional love isn’t about unconditional tolerance. I can love someone deeply, but this doesn’t mean I ought to tolerate their appalling behavior. Overlooking or accepting such behavior isn’t love. It’s neglect.
In its purest form, love is focused on what’s best for the other person at his or her core level. What’s best for the eight-year-old boy who approaches his parents with a long list of toys he wants? What will further his personal development most? Getting everything on his list or learning the hard lessons of discreet spending, coping with disappointment and facing denied requests? Character-building involves learning how to earn and manage money. It entails grappling with life’s difficulties, including those we create for ourselves.
Another vital aspect of the maturation process is social development. Colby’s an unabashed taker and is puffed up with his own self-importance. In contrast, others are completely insignificant. Consequently, respect and cooperation are foreign concepts to him.
The advice I gave Sarah was simple.
“Stop making things cushy for Colby.”
“So, I hear you saying I have to let him fall?” she asked, giving me a look of disbelief.
“Actually, yes,” I replied. “That would be the first step toward helping him.”
I shared with her a bit of wisdom from a former high school football coach, Don Armstrong:
“It’s so empowering when we love people enough to let them fail.”
I emphasized that to love her son in the truest sense, she must always ask herself what’s best for his character. It boils down to this question: “Sarah, how is doing his laundry hurting him at his core?”
She smiled . . . getting it.
In essence, I told her to stop doing his laundry for him, and quit doing everything else he should be doing for himself. Doing those things doesn’t teach him the lesson of personal responsibility. It just reinforces his self-centeredness, his sense of entitlement and his inflated expectations of how the world ought to treat him.
A few years back I learned of a father who parented his children with this guiding philosophy: “You won’t respect me for what I let you do. You’ll respect me for how I teach you to live.”
He nailed it.
Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.
(c) Salee Reese 2016