There’s a distinct difference between a test drive and training. Imagine walking out of the dealership with keys for a new car you’re considering buying. You climb in, adjust the seat and mirrors, fiddle with a few of the knobs and then take the car out. It’s not your car yet – you haven’t made a commitment to ownership – but you want to know if this car is right for you. So you put it through its paces. Freeway, city driving, country roads. You slam the brakes to see how it responds – you turn more aggressively than normal to see the car’s response under stress. Ultimately, in a test drive, you want to prove the car responds well in tough situations so you can be confident when you face those in the real world.
Training is different. If you’re training for a marathon, you plot a course and start small. You build endurance and skills, researching, learning and improving along the way. The process is grueling and tough, and dedicated trainers might have a coach who pushes them even harder.
Interestingly, many marathon training schedules never actually push you to run the whole marathon length until the very day of the race. The logic is simple: if you use all your energy to run the full length before the race, your body will be too tired to make it as efficiently as possible during the race. Rather than experiencing the whole ordeal, you’re training your body to endure and succeed under increasingly difficult situations.
Parents, our children’s years in our home should be much more like training for the marathon of life than like a test drive adulthood.
It’s far to easy to think, “I need to give my kids real-world experience so they know how to deal with the struggles out there.” This is not good parenting! The beautiful reality of childhood is that your children don’t need to deal with the real world – not yet, at least. We have a few blessed years to develop their ability to handle the stress in a controlled and safe environment. We have the ability to ratchet up pressure – wisely – to help our children respond, but we should never feel like our job is put ‘put them through their paces’ to make sure they can ‘survive in the real world.’
A simple example: it’s easy to say, when your preteen does a poor job on his chores, “This would never fly at a real job! Get back here and do it right!” That’s test-drive mentality. Instead, when you see your child struggling in an area, ask yourself: have I helped train her for this? Have I given her a path to mastery – or am I just expecting that she understands and responds the way I think she should? And instead of throwing up your hands in frustration because the task was done poorly, ask “How can I help incentivize and encourage growth so that next time she does increasingly better?”