That’s why I’ve found the advice from one of my mentors so valuable. Alex runs a successful company and has been happily married for over 20 years. His two children are now teenagers, and they’ve both got that special something: they’re smart, mature, well-rounded, and a pleasure to be around.
One weekends my family spent the weekend with Alex and his family. As I soaked everything in, I was fascinated at Alex’s approach to parenting. A deep thinker, he’s continuously working on his business strategy. But he works even harder at his child-rearing strategy.
Throughout the weekend, Alex shared some great stories. Here’s my favorite:
Years ago, my son Tim and I were waiting for a commuter train to take us home, from what felt like the middle of nowhere. As we sat down, an announcement came over the loudspeaker, indicating that the next train had been canceled. This was bad news, because the next train wouldn’t come for another hour. Nonetheless, we patiently waited.
Then, shortly before the next train was scheduled to arrive, another announcement: Problems on the track had forced the train to reroute, and it would be another hour before another one arrived.
Tim couldn’t take it anymore.
“Dad, we can’t just keep sitting here,” he exclaimed. “Let’s just walk to the next station–it’s an express stop. We’ll definitely get a train quicker than if we wait here.”
But I knew these trains well, and I also knew it would take us over two hours to walk to the next station. (There was no Uber back then, and we were low on cash, so a taxi wasn’t an option.) Based on the explanation from the attendant, I was confident the next train would be on time, and was sure it was better to wait. (Of course, I explained all of this to Tim.)
But Tim was adamant. “No way. I know it won’t take us two hours, and I’m sure we’ll make it in better time than just waiting here. Come on, I’m positive!”
After a long discussion, Tim refused to back down. So, I took a step back. I knew my son’s emotional nature and lack of experience were leading him into a bad decision. But I also saw an opportunity to teach a major lesson.
“All right, Tim,” I said. “Let’s do it.”
Tim and I walked briskly and made good time. When a little over an hour had gone by and no train had passed, Tim felt vindicated. “See, I told you,” he gloated. “I bet the next train got canceled, too!”
And then, a faint sound.
A train engine.
“Arrrrgh,” yelled Tim. “I can’t believe it!”
I didn’t say a word. I just kept walking.
We eventually made it to the next station, more than two hours after we had begun walking. Eventually, a train came and we made it home, safe and sound.
Fast forward to today.
“You know,” Alex told me, “I lost a couple of hours that day. But I gained a whole lot more. My son learned a powerful lesson in why he should trust his dad, even when he thinks he knows better.”
“But it goes a lot further than that,” Alex continued. “By giving him the chance to prove things to himself, he saw that I was willing to give him freedom, too.”
“Throughout the years, I’ve continued to give Tim the leeway to make certain decisions himself, and he’s done a great job with that freedom. But when I feel the need to step in, to prevent an especially poor choice or unnecessary pain, a few short words are enough to make a powerful impact:
“Tim, remember the train.”
“Almost always, he’s willing to hear my advice.”
I was in awe.
There’s so much to love about this story, but none more than this:
Sometimes, you have to let your child make mistakes. The earlier you do, the earlier they’ll learn.
But how much better when you can be there, right be their side as they do.
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A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.