July 28, 2012

Life Lessons on the Fly

Photo by Mario (mRio) (cc)
Much to my entire family's annoyance I like to use every day experiences to teach my kids lessons about life. I think the real world is the best possible classroom.

For example, a couple of years ago my oldest son got into the habit of starting his requests with, "I know you're going to say no, but could I..."

I work in a job that is about constant negotiation and there is an art to it. And if you want to hear a yes, you definitely do not let on that you're prepared to hear a "no" because it makes "no" so much easier to say.

So I explained this to my son. "If you want something, don't ever ever ever let on that you expect someone to say no. It puts you in a weaker position." I tell him this because I want him to be in a strong position whenever he goes after something in life. The downside is now, two years later, he is getting to be an exceptional negotiator and if this keeps up I won't stand a chance.

Today we were watching a bike race on the Olympics, a moment where two racers were evenly matched just a minute or so from the finish line. In a bare few seconds one rider let down his guard checking to see how close the pack is on his tail and his evenly-matched competitor takes advantage and sprints for the finish line, creating a gap that was impossible to close in the short time he had to make the finish line.

I sat stunned and rewound the Tivo to see if I had just seen what I thought I had seen. Olympic athletes who have been training for years to get where they were and in one moment of inattention they lose their hard-fought position.

And then on top of that, the guy who pulls ahead starts waving his arms around in celebration before he crosses the finish line.

The mother in me, of course, was thrilled at these teachable moments and my family suffered through me rewinding about four times while I discussed with my oldest the merits of concentration, of keeping your eye on the prize, of not assuming you've made it until you cross the finish line.  I always say it's always more pleasant to learn from other people's mistakes than your own. As a person who has learned a lot of things the hard way, I think I'm right.  The hard lessons are the "sticky" ones, but as a parent I want to try really hard to teach these things before they have a chance to get knocked in the head by life.

It certainly can't hurt.  Until they take your remote control away and stop letting you have control of the television. (That was the lesson I learned the hard way today.)


  1. I love this!

    And we watched, too. (Although no one did any rewinding. We were just so happy that someone "close" to our age won.)

    I do a lot of this about gender. As a result, my kids walk around saying, "That's so gendered" all the time. I hope they do it at school.

    Get the remote back! Swimming tonight!

    1. Oh yeah, because the swimmers are the hottest. Can't miss that! What I mean is, yeah, more life lessons coming up!

  2. I think that's a great lesson to point out. BUT I don't think your kids will understand it until they make that mistake themselves, and in that instant they'll flash back to you rewinding the bike race, and they'll GET IT.

    I tend to draw on mistakes my kids make to point out lessons. A good one my older son needs over and over is making sure he takes care of the little details. In a high school class last year, he didn't think the little assignments were consequential because something like 90% of the grade would be the group project. Guess what? The guy responsible for turning it in missed the deadline by a day, and they got 50% off the project. My son got a C for the quarter and blamed it on everything but himself... until he let it slip that one of his project-mates got an A for the quarter. Because he'd done his absolute best to get A's on everything else leading up to the project.

    I now use that experience with my son to point out that to reach his difficult, long-term goals, he has to set himself up for success by taking care of all the little details now. Even if they seem inconsequential compared to other tests in the future.

  3. Some people never get the lesson...They can live it themselves, then even though it didn't work for them, they expect their children to follow their path...Good luck with retrieving your remote...

  4. I did something like this. I taught my sons to think for themselves, and then they did. And they didn't always see things my way any more!

    Mind you, they're in their twenties now and I'm glad they're capable of independent thought.


Tell me what's on your mind!