The Most Important Lesson

I like online comics. It’s a terrible habit–less expensive than drugs but certainly as addictive. One of my favorites is Wapsi Square (http://wapsisquare.com/ ). Today’s comic started a lot of debate between we-who-read-and-comment. The debate focused on whether it’s right to tell someone what you know, or to withhold information so they can learn for themselves, or maybe make up something to tell them that’s cryptic and by so doing, do both.

I threw my two cents in on it, and I got a little carried away.  Phix is a character who asks, “If you could help someone…by not telling them something, would you do it?” Here’s my response:

I’m with Phix, too.

I told my daughter Santa is as real as me. I told her the tooth fairy still has all her teeth. I told her to wear sunscreen. I told her not to go near the fire when Uncle Isaac was blowing up marshmallows with cherry bombs tucked inside. [Author’s Note: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!!!!! It’s dangerous, it’s destructive, and it’s probably illegal. Seriously, don’t do it.]

I haven’t told her that “Santa” and “Tooth Fairy” are hats I wear when I must. She learned yesterday that no sunscreen=days of sunburn pain. Thankfully, she listened to me about the marshmallows–but the boom still scared her.

The most important thing I will ever teach my kid is to think for herself. You can’t teach someone to think by doing their thinking for them. Sometimes, they need your protection. But the lessons that come when she figures out all by herself that “Santa” is a hat and sunburns hurt and therefore she will wear the “Santa” hat someday and she will put on sunscreen before going swimming… those are priceless lessons. Those are the ones that a parent looks at and says, “Now I know my baby will be ok when she’s out on her own; when I’m too old; after I’m gone. She knows what to do–she can think for herself.”

Nothing can take the place of those lessons… And to teach those lessons, sometimes the parents MUST hold back. See, we already know how to think.

I realized when I’d finished writing that this is something I really believe. This is something important. This matters. Teaching my kid to think for herself really is the one and only thing I have to get right as her mom. Sure, I have to keep her safe, fed, clothed, and educated–but technically, a robot monkey could do that. I’m her MOM. That means I’m more than a robot monkey. I have to do more. The only thing I have that a robot monkey couldn’t have is wisdom–and frankly, I’m not too sure I have that, most days. But I know that thinking for myself saved me from some really stupid mistakes, and not thinking for myself got me in some very hot water. That experience–knowing that my thought process is what lands me in trouble or keeps me from it–is that all-important lesson.

It can’t be taught like math. Repitition and memorization will gain her nothing here. Here, only going through the process of making her own decisions and living with their consequences will teach her to think. I’m here to guide her, but I can’t make the decisions for her.

It’s a hard lesson for both of us.

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