Pinewood Derby parenting lessons

When my sons participated in the Cub Scouts, the pack would always have a Christmas party. The celebration was always a ton of fun, until the very end of the evening. I dreaded that part of the night, because that’s when the pack leaders would hand out the Pinewood Derby kits.

Each individual cub scout with the help of an adult over the next few weeks would build a car from a kit that contained a small piece of pine wood, plastic wheels and nails that served as metal axles. The pack would have a race, complete with a 32-foot track and timer later in the March. The winner of each den would win a small trophy.


A killer attitude

Many of the other parents and grandparents and friends couldn’t wait to get their hands on the cars. Most of the adult helpers were fine, but each year there seemed to be that one father or grandfather who couldn’t stop licking his chops. They boasted of the aerodynamic designs they would create, how they would add weight to specific areas of the car to give it mass, and how they would turn the axels on a lathe to remove any crimp marks to remove any friction. These particular fathers or guardians sounded like they should be working on pit row instead of helping a young cub scout learn the finer points of winning and losing.

Where other fathers seemed to shine, I fell flat. I wanted to help my sons, but I also wanted to take a back seat, letting them take the lead. The whole purpose of the competition was to build confidence, bond with their parents or guardian, give them woodworking experience, and learn the importance of sportsmanship.

With the derby mission floating in my head, I walked a fine line. When I was too involved, the cars looked awesome, but my boys didn’t really enjoy them. When it was more their work then mine, the cars weren’t always much to look at and got easily trounced, but my sons seemed to have more fun. Truth be told, they had a  blast.

In the end, I learned much from the process; I learned to guide, trust and let go.


Lesson learned

I thought about the pinewood derby competitions recently when my oldest son asked me about where he should live next year. He’s thinking about an apartment. I’d probably prefer he stay in the dorms or college-affiliated apartment for another year, but it’s not my decision, it’s his.

To make his decision more challenging, he had to make an immediate decision whether or not to go in with a seven other guys that he had just met. We talked back-and-forth over a couple of days and finally I told him that I didn’t have all the answers. I couldn’t tell him what he should do. I told him the best thing he could do was consider his options, make a decision and then stick with it.

I didn’t lie, I didn’t try to sway him. I was upfront with him. I simply suggested a few pros and cons to both sides.

In the end, he decided to hold off.


Little decisions lead to future successes

As I reflected on my son’s decision, the Pinewood Derby competition immediately came to mind. The trust and honesty that we developed years ago in something small, like building his car, paved the way for a deeper relationship and the bigger decisions that he’s faced over the past twelve months, including what to do with his life, where to go to college, and even where to live next year.

Yes, the overbearing fathers might have built faster cars than my sons, but both of my sons are able to stand on their own. My oldest son comes to me now when he needs some input, but is still strong enough to make the critical decisions he needs to make to follow his dreams and live an exciting life.

I’ll take that black-and-white checkered flag any day of the week.



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