12/31/2014 04:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A (Really Hard) Parenting Lesson for the New Year: When to Keep Our Mouths Shut

My kids have been working at some local stables in exchange for riding lessons. The trainer is a self-confessed drill sergeant. She has no tolerance for crying, whining, laziness, or a distracted rider. A few days ago both of my girls, at different times, fell off their horses during their individual lessons. One was bucked off and the other simply fell when the horse lost its balance traversing through a mud puddle.


Physically, both girls were completely fine. Emotionally, they were a train wreck. They'd lost their confidence, were frightened, and pleaded to dismount. They'd had enough.

"Quit your crying and get back on," the drill sergeant commanded. "Crying ain't gonna get the horse to listen. Fix your mistakes as a rider, and show him you're in control."

I hung my limbs over the fence and passively watched the scenes unfold like a movie. I listened as the drill sergeant scolded them, holding them accountable for their errors, and refusing to acknowledge their fear.

As a mom, it was counterintuitive NOT to intervene. But I bit my tongue.

I neglected to console them, or encourage them on with false praise. In spite of my maternal instincts, I didn't leap over the fence and embrace them into my motherly arms, either. In my mind I did, conceding that yes, the big, bad world had treated them unfairly.

However, this was not my domain; clearly, it was outside the scope of my parenting arena. I had to trust that my girls would put to use the life skills they'd been taught when tough times pushed them far outside their comfort zone, and to their limits. Over the years, I'd given them plenty of tools to self-soothe, re-gain their composure, re-gain focus, and literally, get back on the horse. Now it was up to them to come face-to-face with themselves.

As parents, it's damn hard to sit back and let our kids suffer disappointment, heartache, pain, fear, and rejection. It's a tough swallow to allow other people to treat our kids in ways inconsistent with our own worldview, albeit ultimately for their own good. Nevertheless, to truly prepare our kids for the real world, we must know when it's time to step out of the way.

Throughout life, our kids are going to face demanding professors, testy roommates, tactless coaches, and hard-nosed bosses who'll break them down and challenge them to stretch themselves, evolve, and transform in ways they previously thought they never could.

And although they will shed plenty of tears, protest, and feel like giving up, these defining moments are the building blocks of the adults they will become. In fact, such moments form the foundation of their self-confidence and character.

What's more, these unforgettable drill sergeants will be the starring protagonists of our children's very best stories -- the ones they'll later share with their own grandkids.

And once they transcend their own egos, they'll be thanking the drill sergeants later on--especially once they've exceeded their self-imposed limitations, and accomplished more than they ever believed possible.


At some point as parents, we must take a step back and give our kids breathing room to figure out how to cope with different kinds of people and difficult situations. And if we bravely choose to witness said trying scenarios, as parents, our overriding lesson is to keep our mouths shut.

Today, my girls are getting back on the horse -- obliged to confront their fears, past mistakes, and anxieties. I may or may not show up. If I do, I'll go relax somewhere in the shade, munch on chips, and curl up with some trashy novel.

Happy New Year, everyone! May it be full of good health, happiness, and good, get-out-of-the-way parenting!