I was looking for something to snack on this afternoon when Lex came up behind me in the pantry. She was holding a frozen burrito.
"Can I have this?" she asked.
"Sure," I replied (as I opened a Hershey's 100 Calorie, guilt free, chocolate-covered pretzel bar; they're only 100 calories because the bars are microscopic).
I walked back toward my computer to get back to work.
"Um...," she said, unsure, "are you going to make it for me?"
"You can't make it?"
She got that look in her eyes-the one that the sixteen year-old boy gets when Dad hands him the keys for the very first time.
"Yes! I can!" she said. "Can I?"
"Yep. Have at it," I told her.
"K. What does this say?" she asked, pointing at a section of the microwave instructions.
And I realized that in order to be a truly effective parent, you've got to be an effective leader. Because parenting is really about leading your child into their full potential; it's about developing them.
We have a tendency at times to retard our children's developmental potential by carrying them much further than they need to be carried. A child will never learn to walk until they're put down, and given the opportunity to fall. We recognize that, and so we put them down as early as we can, and squat and clap and make goo-goo noises and shake the rattle, trying to entice the poor kid to take that half-step out of Dad's arms, and to cross that massive divide into Mom's outstretched hands. We force ourselves to put them at some risk of harm, because we recognize that protecting them to that degree has a long-term damaging effect.
And we let them, at six-years old, open the burrito, and climb up on the counter and operate the microwave, and even blow up the burrito all over the inside of the microwave; because at some point they're going to have to. And I can do it for them until they're 22, or I can guide them into it now (with an ever-watchful eye, ensuring they don't stick the fork in the microwave, and explaining why metal should NEVER, EVER go in there), and they can do it for themselves from here on out.
That's what parenting is about, isn't it?
How old is old enough to cook your own burrito? I don't have any idea; I don't think that there's a right or wrong answer. But I do know this: that the good parent, the EFFECTIVE parent, is always looking for signs that their child is ready to embark. And they're willing to let them fly, even if it seems a little "early", and even though there's a chance of falling out of the sky.
Because we--parents--are there to catch them if that happens. As a parent, it's a choice we have to make: do I commit to carrying my child until they're either so weak they'll never walk on their own, or they're so frustrated at not being able to walk that they shun me? Or do I allow them to jump out a little earlier than I feel comfortable with, always there to catch them if they fall?
The love that you see in their eyes the instant after you catch them on those occasional falls brings understanding, and growth. And trust. Which carrying will never bring.
Nor will carrying bring growth.
And that's the job of the leader, isn't it? To lead others into a dimension, a reality, that was previously beyond them? Not to carry them. To lead. To allow them to walk, even if the terrain is unfamiliar, and seemingly dangerous. To allow them to walk, and to do your best to catch them if they fall, or at the very least to help them up and brush them off.
I, as a parent, am trying to teach Alexis and Gentry to fly. My job is not finished until I no longer have to fly them about, but they're able to take flight on their own and soar. And I have only truly excelled at my job if they're able to soar higher and farther than I've ever even imagined.
I can only do that by allowing them to test their wings.
Such is the job of the leader.