Is making yourself redundant the ultimate act of brave parenting?

Nov 1

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01 November 2017 10:11  RssIcon

By Honor Wilson-Fletcher, British Exploring CEO

I cannot find the quote – but someone smart pointed out that it isn’t just children who ‘grow’ – their parents do too. Parenting isn’t easy.

One of the decisions you might find tough as a parent is to allow your child to take a risk, or to fail at something. Parents and guardians speak to me with feeling about the ‘sausage factory’ of education – about an obsessive focus on securing qualifications (which they didn’t always equate with ‘success’) - of less opportunity and greater expectations than they remember as young people – and most of all about a tremendous and unhealthy dread of failure. How do you counteract this as a parent?

Canadian Yukon expedition 2017 by young explorers Maryam Aziz and Yassir Al-Mhana

My son struggled to fit in at his comprehensive school. No good at sport, a bit pale and skinny, subject to bullying - so also angry and as a result often in trouble. He was ‘rescued’ by learning through different kinds of challenge outside school. Not traditional sport – which he hated - but cycling, climbing, trekking & adventure in the outdoors. He did well in school in the end – but only because he found his confidence, and a sense of perspective about what success looked like, outside it. I could not have imagined, looking at his fragile 11-year-old self, the effortlessly independent, competent and compassionate adult he has become, nor dared to hope for the life he has worked hard to build for himself.

As a school governor and CEO of an academy trust I had the good fortune to take part in unusually stretching programmes for young people – one in Costa Rica, one in India. Both allowed young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in England the chance to demonstrate completely different skills from those rewarded in the classroom. They had tough moments; being asked to undertake difficult and uncomfortable tasks, being confused or upset by what they saw; being anxious and homesick, sometimes nervous. But they came home more resilient, more able, more tolerant and flexible – and much more aware of their capabilities. The experience got me thinking.

I took the job of CEO at British Exploring Society because I understood that it provided unbeatable opportunities for young people from different backgrounds to get to know themselves better and develop real self-belief and maturity. The charity seemed to equip young people with the mental toughness and ability to deal with challenge and failure to help them have more rewarding lives. A year and a half in – all the evidence we have and the feedback I get from young people and their parents confirms for me I was right.

But it is a big decision to take part in one of our programmes. Our parents describe it as ‘a learning experience for us too.’ And that ‘It represents a significant change in all our lives as a family’. We ask a lot of our ‘Young Explorers’ as we call them – and of the families who support them. Parenting isn’t easy….

If you come as a Young Explorer on one of our programmes, the overseas phase will take you to a remote location for 3 – 5 weeks. You won’t be in touch with home at all. ‘Letting go was very difficult’ one parent told me – and their experience is not unusual. This is definitely about parents being brave as well as young people – in the knowledge that encouraging a son or daughter to take on a challenge like this – and it is very likely to be the most challenging experience they have had so far in their lives – will prepare them for pretty much anything subsequently.

Expeditionary Year Iceland 2017 by Chief Leader Simon White

Thankfully, parents report that it was ‘a rewarding experience for us too’ by the time their son or daughter completes.

I wouldn’t want any young person to fear failure. I cannot imagine any parent would. I get the rewards every time our Young Explorers return, when we can see and hear for ourselves the impact that their experiences with us have had on them:

“for the first time in my life…I felt stronger than anything that could stand in my way’
‘I learned not to underestimate myself and the abilities I have the potential to develop’’

We also get to find out whether our work is preparing them in the way that we hoped for the future:

‘Most of the challenges on the expedition were left for us to solve ourselves, which really encourages everyone to speak up and think independently’
‘They push you out of your comfort zone but are there to catch you’
‘when you are in the wilderness…99% of the time you can find a solution, and make do with what you have with the support of your group.’

Peruvian Amazon expedition 2017 by Media Leader Alex Mallinson

Every parent knows their son or daughter best, and what will work for them. There are many ways to tackle some of the anxieties young people face today. I’ll just share what a few parents have told us this year about their experience with us, having made the decision that an expedition programme was a good idea for them:

‘As parents of state educated boys we have felt these expeditions are better value for money, longer in duration and more challenging than any school trip.’
“I had never heard of the charity before (my son’s) involvement and it would be amazing if every young person knew about your work and had the opportunity to get involved.”

“I never imagined that this wonderful experience would be possible for our child, especially at the age of fifteen.”

I like Barbara Kingsolver’s thought about parenting: ‘it’s the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.
The ultimate brave act of parenting must be to make yourself redundant. But the reward - fearless, competent and resilient offspring, sharing some their adventures in life with us when they have a moment, but facing firmly forward, thinking about and building their own independent futures? Worth it, surely.
To find out more about British Exploring Society visit our Who we are webpage, or read more about our expeditions here.

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