My Kids Gave Me a Parental Performance Review

Mistakes were made, but they liked their independence.

What My Kids Say About Their “Let Grow” Childhood, by Dan Emery

I sometimes messed up as a dad. And part of seeing my kids (mostly) grown up is realizing that I can’t go back in time and make better parenting choices. 

Moving my son from the “fun” soccer team that he loved into the “travel” soccer team that he hated? I can’t take it back. 

Losing my temper and yelling? I can’t erase history. 

Being (almost) totally unprepared for how quickly screen technology would change? I don’t get a do-over on cell phones.

Maybe you, too, have a few parenting mistakes and regrets. But what about all those things that we get right?

My wife and I have aligned with the Let Grow motto — “When adults step back, kids step up” — since our children were small. Now they are 21, 18 and 15. Looking back, those moments when we supported and trusted our kids to be independent are the ones that give me feelings of peace and confidence — even if they were sometimes hard, and even if sometimes we felt out of sync with a lot of other parents.

How it feels to grow up being allowed to walk around unsupervised.

But I wondered how it felt for my kids…so I decided to ask them: “Looking back, what do you think we got right as parents, in giving you freedom and responsibility?”

Here are a few headlines, in the hopes that they might be useful to parents whose children are still young!

“Definitely being allowed to walk places and go places on our own,” my college age daughter immediately responded. “You taught us to be careful, but that as we got older we shouldn’t feel scared to go places by ourselves.” She added, “I feel like the parents of many kids told them to never walk alone, and accidentally taught them to be paranoid and suspicious. But we felt confident and we had so much fun walking around.” 

“You did not email our teachers or counselors. You let us build our own relationships with mentors and authority figures,” that same daughter added.

It’s true. If our teens were going to be late or needed help, they were in charge of writing the email or stopping by the teacher’s office hours. As a result, my daughter said, “We always knew that our grades belonged to us. If we got an A, it was because we earned an A, and if we got a C” — same.

How it feels to have parents who don’t micromanage.

And speaking of stepping back, “You let us have fights with friends without getting involved,” said my high school-aged daughter. “I know kids who if they have an argument with a friend, their mom will look over their texts and call the other kid’s mother to solve the problem. But I feel like you think I can handle things myself.”

“We could ask you for help, but you wouldn’t help me unless I asked,” said my son, now a junior in college. “You let us figure stuff out on our own.”

“You let us spend our money on whatever we wanted, but we had to earn it ourselves,” a couple of the kids mentioned, and one added, “You taught us that what we want is within reach, and we have our own means of getting it.” 

I noticed a common theme. It’s ownership. Teens are sometimes scared to be in charge of their life — but they also feel proud and capable when they handle things on their own.

There’s no perfect way to parent, and every family is different. I’m all too aware of my imperfections and mistakes as a dad. But I’m glad we’ve imperfectly tried to give our kids the room to grow into their own awesome capacities. And I’m glad that they’re glad.

Because when adults step back, kids really do step up.

Photo is of Dan’s son Elijah.