Who’s Driving This Cart?

It’s an interesting dilemma and, to some degree, a fascinating study on parenting styles and micro-management.  Twelve 18 year old boys want to rent a house in San Diego for a week in June as part of their high school graduation celebration.  They’ve done the research, found a house and are planning the road trip from San Francisco to San Diego and back.  They are responsible kids.  But still, they are 18 year old boys who want to party.  So, the moms get involved.  The emails start to fly back and forth.  One mom offers to spend part of the time in San Diego, while the boys are there.  A couple others are concerned that the length of time they are staying is too long.  The plans start to change.  The trip length is reduced.  Then this email comes:

Hello Mothers,  We are oh so gracious that you have taken time out of your days to help coordinate our trip, seeing as this is our senior trip, kind of a big deal, I think our input should be taken with the utmost consideration. Shortening the trip was never apart of our plans and I dont think it will ever be. We have done the numbers and understand the cost of a longer trip and are all working hard to allocate our individual shares. Again, we appreciate the concern, but we will be taking over from here.   -Matt speaking on behalf of all the men

My son is a part of this group of “men.”  However, given that we are living in Singapore now, I simply watch from the other side of the world as the debate continues.  “Teenage hubris” is the first response by the emailers mother. “I was shocked…” was another.  Then the experienced Irish mom chimes in… “I have had two boys go on senior trips, by themselves, and feel confident that this is a time for them to ‘do it on their own’.”

I have always favored the idea of promoting independence in my children.  We let our own son go to India with a friend for three weeks last summer with no adult supervision to do a “service trip.”  There was some service involved, but I later discovered that there was a good chunk of time also spent surfing in the Indian Ocean, riding around the town on motorbikes and developing relationships with girls from Europe.  He made it home alive and better for the experience. But, in retrospect, I second guess myself on whether I asked enough questions or provided the right level of guidance up front.

In the San Diego situation, my gut tells me that the Irish mom is right.  They are 18 year old boys (men, as Matt states in his email) – we really need to let go and let them figure it out.    But then, again, they are 18 year old boys…they still rely on us for guidance – ok maybe not so much, but they should, and they are definitely not turning down our money for college.

When your own kids are involved, the balance between micro-management and letting go is especially tough.  But, this is also true in business.  I was reminded of this in a meeting yesterday.  I am an investor and working as the Chief Marketing Officer with a group of entrepreneurs here in Singapore to build a for-profit on-line kids game with social impact.  The game developers are in the UK, and we were planning for our weekly call with them.  We wanted to discuss the design of our website’s splash page.  We weren’t happy with the current design. In our own internal meeting, we began to discuss how we would like to see the page.  None of us are graphic designers, but we knew what we liked when we saw other examples on line.  So, we started to develop our very specific ideas for what the page should look like.  That’s when it hit me.  This is micro-management.  These UK guys are the experts when it comes to design.  When we provide the high level guidance on what we want to accomplish and the feel that we want, they have always delivered with flying colors.  When we start to micromanage the design process, it simply doesn’t work.  So, we changed our approach and simply provided them with a “guiding map” on what we wanted, leaving the creative process and implementation to the design expert.  I am confident the result will be much better.

Can the same be said for our sons?  Only time will tell.  Regardless, I am going to continue to let him steer his cart…but I’ll definitely let him know that I am here with a few maps in my back pocket if he needs them.

2 thoughts

  1. Knowing when to let go is one of the hardest things about parenting – from watching them take their first few steps without rushing to catch them, to seeing them off on their first unaccompanied trip, it’s hard to step back and let your kids find their own balance. But I totally agree with you that if your aim is for your boys to become confident, independent, self-reliant adults, then it’s essential that you take a breath, stand back and let them get on with it. We can’t cushion our children from making their own mistakes in life – they will, and it’ll sometimes be painful for us to witness. But that’s what we’ve all done, isn’t it – figured things out for ourselves? It’s called growing up! Mind you, I say this from the comfortable vantage point of a mum with relatively young kids – I guarantee I’ll be pacing the kitchen in a fug of anxiety when my turn comes to deal with all of this …

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