Massive winds bend the thick trunks of scrub oak trees until it seems the roots will soon rip out of the ground. Birds fly against the wind, working extra hard to move from branch to branch, and the heat would be overbearing if not for the winds.

I love nature, I love lightning, thunder and storms, even high winds … up to a point, until it becomes unsafe. In fact, I once rode out a hurricane in my car, stuck bumper-to-bumper in Central Florida as me and millions of others were trying to escape to safety up North. No cars flipped, but they were all rocking back and forth, bounding on their tires. It was more intense than any Six Flags ride and lasted for a few hours. Other than cowering in a basement corner waiting for an oncoming tornado, I think that is the most frightened I’ve ever been.

The Struggle

Looking back on childhood, I’m grateful for experiences that made my brothers and I stronger. I’m grateful my parents let us struggle and did not solve every problem for us.

As a parent, my temptation has been to tell my kids what to do at every turn, trying to keep them from pain. But pain is healthy, and we should save our controlling nature for those times when their lives or safety are actually at risk. Otherwise, skinned knees and wounded hearts are part of growing up. 

Our job as parents isn’t to clear the path for our kids but to get the kids ready for the path. Letting go is probably more important than control.

Go Ahead and Sleep Late

I want my kids to learn to be independent. For instance, one of my sons has a full-time job, and, like many, has not learned to manage his time. Plus he loves to stay up late, sometimes till the wee hours. Knowing he has to be at work at 6 a.m., I could call him and suggest he come home. And in the morning, I could go upstairs and wake him. But unless he experiences the pain of an unhappy boss because he is late or misses work, he won’t learn. So, in spite of my temptation to help make things smoother, I let him fail.

Do Your Own Laundry!

When I was a kid, my mom did our laundry and cooked our food, but she made me cook every week or two, choosing the menu for the family. We had lots of fried bologna and mashed potatoes. But at least I could survive if I had to (which came in handy once I left home.)

Laurie made our kids start doing their own laundry at about 7 years old. My daughter told me many kids come to college having never done their own laundry. She’s been doing it for more than half her life.

My natural instinct is to answer questions, step in and control situations, and blather on about lessons that need to be learned. But I have to fight my instincts.

What about you?

How were you raised?

Did your parents allow you to make mistakes, or did they control every outcome?

When my boys were in Cub Scouts I read a book called The Dangerous Book for Boys, which emphasized the importance of danger and adventure. Too many of us won’t let kids climb trees because we fear broken arms, but the book says that we need a sense of danger, we need to do things to help us build our confidence. (My daughter was as much about danger as my boys.) So while other moms and dads were preventing danger at the park, I was encouraging it. Though it was against my instinct, it’s important.

We’re not perfect. We paved too many paths and spoiled our kids in some ways. Thankfully, we didn’t try to control every moment. As a result we have confident, independent kids (sometimes too independent).

Are you paving a path or letting them make their own path?

The most important lesson for me as a parent is to let go. 

Step in only when it’s a matter of life or death. If they screw up and get arrested, I won’t bail them out. They need to learn. If we solve every problem, they’ll be looking to our solutions into adulthood.

Eric Rhoads

PS: Winds are pushing wildfires in New Mexico, which has discouraged a few people from attending our Plein Air Convention, which starts on Tuesday the 17th. Thankfully, I’m told that things are fairly clear in Santa Fe and our group is in no danger. If we do get an especially smoky day, we’ll simply paint together inside if we can’t go outside (unlikely). I’m bringing my entire family (triplets and their mom) to the convention this week to work. I hope you’ll come, or at least watch online.

This September it will be springtime in New Zealand (sounds like the name of a movie). I’m taking a group of 50 to the most amazing scenery on earth for painting. (Some come and don’t paint, they just tour or take photos.) I have a few seats left.

This June I’ll be painting with about a hundred friends at my 11th Publisher’s Invitational artists’ retreat in the Adirondacks. We’re going to some of the EXACT spots painted by the Hudson River School painters. In fact, we’re staying and painting in the exact location frequented by Winslow Homer. One price includes room and meals (yep, a week where you don’t have to cook or clean!!).