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The Burger King Theory

My children are quite independent, mature, and autonomous individuals. Isaac, 19, home schooled himself through high school and has traveled—independently and not part of a school group–to India, New Zealand, Israel, and Australia as a young adult. (He’s been to Puerto Rico, New Zealand, Fiji, and Spain on school trips.) Jessie, 21, graduated college a short three months ago, spent a few weeks at home and has moved 500 miles away and will be leaving soon for six months in London.

It isn’t that we don’t have a strong and loving relationship. Quite the contrary, they come home when they are able. We e-mail, IM, and talk on the telephone with each other frequently. But they both are leading their lives while their mother and I lead our lives.

People often ask, “How did they get that way? How did your children get to be so mature and independent?”

Well, I have a theory that I call the Burger King Theory. Adulthood begins in the small daily routines of life.

As a four, five, or six year old, Isaac ordered his fast food burgers without ketchup or lettuce or with some other specific special requirement. Invariably, we would be sitting down at the table opening our paper wrappers and Isaac would discover the special order was incorrect. Our exhortations of “just scrape the ketchup off” fell on deaf ears. We quickly decided that this was Isaac’s problem, not ours, and so we gave it back to him. “If you don’t want to simply scrape the ketchup off, take your sandwich up to the counter and tell them to correct it.”

Isaac learned early that he could be an advocate for himself and that along with freedom (e.g.; the freedom to special order his fast food) came consequences (e.g.; the inevitable errors inherent in special ordering fast food). My wife and I expected him to solve his own problems, albeit with our behind the scenes support and safety net.

So, when people ask, “How did they get that way? How did your children get to be so mature and independent?” my answer is practice. My wife and I allowed our children to gradually practice more and more decision making and problem solving. We allowed them to practice using their own judgment while we served as conduits of unconditional love, constructive feedback, and, sometimes, silence. We have allowed them the joy and elation of success and the grief and sadness and learning that comes with mistakes. We have had the opportunity to share their celebrations of joy and the opportunities to hug tightly and empathetically when learning from mistakes has been difficult for each of them.

Related Tim’s Talk article: Letting Go of Miracles

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