Independence Breeds Maturity

Last week, I dropped our first born back at college.  It was great to have him home for a month but by the end of his break, Mike was ready to go “home”, which is now a room not much bigger than a closet in a dorm on the Tufts campus. He loves it!

Home Sweet Home

I love having him back around our house; talking, laughing, and debating (my wife calls it arguing – she’s not Italian). The family dinners were back to normal, everyone trying to get a word in and no one really listening to the other. The girls talk over Mike, Mike talks over the girls, I’m talking over everyone, while my wife tries to facilitate. So, it seems a little bit sad when “he was ready to go home” doesn’t mean our house in PA, but it’s actually about growth.

Mike doesn’t want to leave because he doesn’t love us (or even like us).  He wants to leave because he also loves his independence.  He’s growing up and in many ways that is harder for me than for him.

This hurts me more than it hurts you

As a parent, you try to give your child the freedom to make mistakes, hopefully small ones.  Things s/he can learn from, but are not catastrophic.  But to be honest, when you’re a parent all mistakes feel catastrophic.

I tend to overprotect and micromanage, all in the spirit of love and with an eye towards teaching.  My wife, on the other hand, is better at enabling independence.  She provides a foundation with a great deal of freedom.  She’s no pushover and her unending support is never in question, but she is more willing to let them spread their wings.  I always argued for the micromanagement approach, emphasizing that is helps the kids understand the reality of the world.  As they show me they get it, I give them a little more freedom.  Slowly but surely, they begin to learn and grow.

After witnessing the huge leap of growth in Mike in such a short period of time, I realize my approach might have slowed things down a bit. When I reflect on how this happened, I realize the maturity stems from his independence.

A sort of A-ha moment

I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.  Independence breeds maturity.  And I know that first hand.  I lost my mother when I was 11, and I had to grow up fast.  Cook my own dinner, wash my own clothes, clean the house and make my lunch.  Of course it was devastating to lose my mother, but the forced independence created a self-confident, mature and responsible (most of the time) young man.   Eventually, I felt like I could do anything while I was growing up, and I still feel this way today.

Three months into college and I can see my son beginning to feel the same way, like he can accomplish anything.  He’s ready to tackle life’s challenges head on.  He wants to cook his own meals, wash his own clothes, pay his own bills, etc.  Being responsible is not a drag, it’s an ingredient to being independent.  It feels good and he feels great about it!  The energy is amazing.

No secret sauce

So what is the secret to enabling independence as a parent?  I’m not sure there is one secret, but I know what has helped me more than anything.  Trust.  If independence is not thrust on you through death or leaving for college, then it must be earned or granted through trust.

Trust at work is no different.  As leaders, I think we need to step back and look around.  Is the team flourishing? Or is it growing slower than we would like? If it’s the latter, maybe it’s because we are over-protecting or micromanaging. Perhaps we need to give the team greater independence, maybe we need to trust that they can do it on their own.

As a parent, this feels very scary.  I trust my son, but I don’t want him to get hurt.  As leaders, maybe it’s not much different.  Maybe by not wanting to have our team get hurt or fail, we are limiting their ability to learn and grow.

A secret postscript

As I finish writing this post I realized something else.  My wife is doing a better job than I am at truly leading our family. Thank God we have her!  (And, if you see her, keep this between us.)