To Parent Future Entrepreneurs, Should Moms Look to the Past?
Updated: Feb 10
Mothers Day always makes me evaluate. I'm pretty happy with past performance, but I always wonder if I can do more and if my past is creating future challenges or supportive of whole child development. How exactly did my parents motivate me to strive? More importantly, how can I be better for my own kids as they grow? I'm trying out 4 parenting themes. The jury is still out, but I think I'm on the right path.
My 5-year-old was recently rewarded for continual good behavior at school with a haul of miniature plastic soldiers, tanks, humvees, helicopters, and other small toys acquired during a recent pit stop at ASOM in Fayetteville. This collection should encourage his creativity and capacity for self-management while I try to get work done.
Through his excitement, amazement, and a huge smile, I heard a quiet certainty that said "Mom, when I grow up, I'm going to marry you!"
I chuckled at his innocence. He wasn't inside my head as I collected this treasure trove of fun for him. It was a strategic reward for his continual journey toward age-appropriate self-regulation. Clearly, I love my "little hurricanes" and admittedly, my ego was stroked and I was stoked by his excitement. That was short-lived as I questioned the premise of the reward. It was contrary to my upbringing. Maybe a reward is appropriate at 5, but guilt doesn't allow much room for that thought. As a product of a Mom far superior at managing life than I, I can't help but feel extracted by the perfectionism of modern parenting, especially on social media. I feel guilty for caring about my career as much as for rewarding my child for good behavior. So was I the problem here and the reward a bribe for my own shortcomings? Probably, but...
As a child, if I felt I earned a reward, I had to surpass basic expectations to justify it. Earnings, not rewards, were focused on experiences, opportunities, and time together. To extend myself beyond expectations was purposefully difficult and I learned early on that delay, argument, or complaints in protest of high expectations would seldom be given audience. Failure to make a good case for lowering expectations resulted in the loss of a far more valuable condition - independence. Earned independence was a far greater reward to me than a thumb in my back. The judicious application of motivational measures is a good strategy but the technique is also important in terms of societal expectations and future growth. So, given societal changes, where are we now? I think the rhythm works differently for every household; I wish it were simple, but a few basics can steady the ship of complexity.
Let them suffer.
I asked a successful entrepreneur recently what to do in order to encourage the next generation to become doers and successful entrepreneurs. He related his personal entrepreneurial success to economic scarcity. I wanted more and when I asked him to elaborate, he asked for permission to be frank. Granted. Surrounded by a crowd of military veterans and entrepreneurs used to dealing with imperfection and making the mission work anyway, the resounding yes was no surprise. We sugar coat, pad, and position so much in this world, so it was refreshing to hear his answer:
"Let them suffer." Wow. Let that sink in for a moment. He didn't say let them struggle. He said let them suffer.
In most social circles, the words "kids" and "suffer" in the same sentence extract a painful wince or conversational recoil. In polite circles, many prefer to avoid the context of this, especially in reference to Mom. Truthfully, we've bubble wrapped and protected our kids, and in specific cases, it's a critical, life-defining act of love. But, overall, it's not how kids learn and it's not how we should parent throughout most of their lives. Kids need to do the heavy lifting, fail, fall, scrape, bleed, and lose in order to grow through teachable moments that are only born of challenges to their confidence and independence. They can't calibrate their bodies and build emotional and social intelligence absent full engagement. Such participation carries inherent risks. These risks are significant opportunities to learn and build resilience if we allow kids the white space they need to apply imagination to problem solve.
LOVE is all in.
Of all of Mom's superpowers, few would argue that a Mother's love isn't the most powerful and universally understood condition of the animal planet. Mom's love, defies probability, defends our existence, and allows us the necessary room to fail with a place to retreat, recover, and go try again. Mom's are a child's first connection to humanity. The ongoing maternal sacrifice in a child's early life secures a trust that opens the door for exploration and forward failure.
Setting conditions to experience an environment of forward failure is absolutely critical to our learning process and is the very thing that is demonstrative of a Mother's or mentor's deepest love for her child.
Given the connection between suffering, forward failure, and rising, I see this as a critical stability support to the platform needed to build a child's resilience and entrepreneurial drive.
Let them go.
We are told that Mom's have the hardest time with this one, but I disagree with that almost all of the time. I don't have a hard time letting go but I have a hard time not following my gut. Mom-specific bubble wrapping, protective intuition exists for a reason. It's not just an evolutionary advantage; it's a developed instinct. I assert this opinion having observed my own very young kids' propensity to naturally test their interpretation of gravity, friction, acceleration, inertia, and real physical pain.
Our protective instincts are "pass-thrus" of our own experience. We transfer a ton of genetic material through DNA, but our instincts are how we transfer important experiential details. Letting go is instinctual and experiential.
As Moms, we observe and intuit to recognize when a child is ready or capable. Even when our kids aren't yet ready in terms of their own intellect or emotions, they may still be physically capable. When we recognize imbalance between physical capability, intellectual and/or emotional readiness, we can still let them go and remain nearby for the necessary coaching to encourage continuation along their resilience journey. As they build confidence in their independence and acquire skills necessary to thrive independently, we can then relax. Striking that balance is the toughest part for me personally. The best Moms are able to strategically apply this process of letting go while maintaining adequate emotional and physical proximity during their child's development. The extreme best of these are able to do it multiple times over, with children of varying ages, capabilities, and levels of readiness. (Yeah - I see you and am in awe.)
These Moms bob and weave, pivot, recognize and react, pull, tug, push, or nudge with precision timing and force to propel potential. They are also exit experts, listening to their instincts to motivate kids to embrace the emotional runway necessary for flight.
Exceptions to Suffering - Mimi, & Grammy.
To rules, there are always exceptions. Mimi & Grammy are important ones. After creating a safe and loving home, bringing home the necessary bacon, teaching us to value permanence over disposable character, Mimi and Grammy earned an exception to these rules.
Mimi and Grammy did the hard work of teaching us to love people for who they are, not for what they can do for us and not because they are exactly like us.
They sacrificed time, attention, and capacity to foster abundant love of 5 children who rarely recognized the depth of commitment to our well being. For all the Mother's Day celebrations that fell short of due relaxation, Mimi & Grammy can pretty much do anything they want. (Newer parents: accept now that at least one of them will do it anyway!) Truthfully, Mimi and Grammy are able to see what overly extracted parents sometimes can not which enables them to expertly position bribes, spoils, and time. Expect the overindulged, sugar-saturated meltdowns as the kids readjust to reality upon returning home. Mimi and Grammy can barely hide their delight over cries of protest as you pull away from their house, so let them relish. Squash the temporary frustration with permanent gratitude that one day all too soon, you will wield the magical superpower of knowing when and how to
embrace exceptions to create inspired moments that matter most to our little humans who will ultimately inherit and solve tomorrow's problems.
To all the Mom's along this journey, whether your career is outside or inside your home, cheers to you for your contributions and sacrifices in raising the next generation of problem solvers and entrepreneurs! Happy Mother's Day!