“The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.”
Frank A. Clark
Years ago, I came home from school one day and promptly sat across from my mother at the kitchen table. I was about 11 years old, and I had a question.
A teacher had challenged the class by posing some dilemma we had to solve. The details are lost to memory, but I vaguely remember the teacher creating some scenario in which the answer was not clear, each potential solution fraught with problems. I found it frustrating.
I was quite good at memorizing facts and figures, and most of our lessons and tests consisted of reading material and then regurgitating cold, hard facts. This whole “thinking through a problem” stuff seemed like a waste of time; just tell me the information to memorize.
My mother, of course, had a different perspective.
“This is good practice for solving real problems,” my mother said. “You’ll find times in life when the answers are not so clear, and you’ll have to work things out.”
I was skeptical, but Mom pressed me.
“What if you’re facing a situation without a simple answer? What will you do if you haven’t worked on difficult problems before?” she asked.
“I’ll ask you!” I said earnestly. I always turned to my mom for guidance.
“What if I’m not here?” Mom asked.
“I’ll find you,” I said.
“But I won’t always be here,” Mom said with a faint smile.
I took her words literally, as if she might be away shopping at the very moment I needed her, or worse, be out of town for the weekend. I still didn’t understand the need to learn this whole problem solving stuff.
At Mom’s urging, though, I worked on my critical thinking skills. Eventually, I became good at identifying and solving problems, both in the classroom and in the real world.
It wasn’t until college that her words at the kitchen table finally sank in: I realized Mom was trying to tell me she wouldn’t live forever. I needed to learn to solve problems on my own.
Mom passed several years ago. One of her many gifts was helping me to learn to think critically. I still miss bouncing ideas off her and the way she would challenge my assumptions about a path I intended to take. In the end, though, she always required me to work through my own problems and make my own decisions – and take responsibility for them.
Now, I teach my daughter some of the same lessons about thinking for herself. As much as I desire it, I won’t always be here for her….