Today’s culture promotes the idea our children, especially by their teen years, need to be doing certain things (taking AP courses, getting all A’s, playing a sport…select no less, involvement in clubs or service projects, attending social functions…prom (for example), in order to successfully enter the next phase of their life…college, of course. Which only gets costlier every year, so there is very little wiggle room for error in the process of getting there, and then staying on track once accepted.
And, as parents we [hands down] want the best for our children…to give them all we can in terms providing the highest quality education, sports-related opportunities, memories like magical family vacations to faraway destinations. Maybe this is the way we grew up, and we remember fondly those days…or, maybe our parents couldn’t provide the same experience, so we’ll be damned if we will fall short.
Because there is so much anxiety on our part to want to see our kids happy and successful, and because society is constantly driving the message of scarcity into our consciousness, it is incredibly emotionally challenging as moms and dads to see our kids struggle, or god forbid FAIL.
But when we work so hard at “helping” our kids to create a picture perfect childhood, we rob them of a very, very necessary life skill…RESILIENCE.
Madeline Levine, Ph. D. wrote a terrific book in 2006 called The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, in which she states:
“When we do for our kids what they can already to for themselves, when we do for them what they can almost do for themselves, and when our parenting behavior is motivated by our own ego, we deprive our kids of the opportunity to be creative, to problem solve, to develop coping skills, to build resilience, to figure out what makes them happy, to figure out who they are.”
To figure out WHO THEY ARE?????!!!!! OMG we would NEVER want to deprive them of that, right? But, how often do you “suggest” they take this course, or participate in that workshop? How often do you bail your child out? Little things like dropping off a homework assignment when they text you to say they left it on the kitchen counter…or bigger things, like they did something stupid such as getting drunk at a college party and now they need help getting out of jail for public intoxication.
How much of your time and energy goes into steering your offspring into what you feel is best for them? Or offering assistance when they are capable of handling a situation, just not exactly the way you might see as the right way?
Have you ever really stopped and asked yourself why you do this?
I know the most important lessons of my life were taught me when my parents stood back and allowed me to take responsibility for the choices I’d made. Whether it was accepting the consequences at school when I was found cheating on a science exam junior year, or showing me the door when I became a mother at age eighteen. Though the lessons were tough, it was precisely in the working through those situations where I learned not only resilience, but grit.
Fast forward twenty years from that challenge of being a single mom at eighteen to my own son’s choices, which just happens to intersect with the TOUGHEST decision I ever had to make as a mother…his call from jail looking for bail. He explained to me (through tears) this wasn’t who he was, he wanted out right now…I knew it wasn’t who he was, but no matter how hard it was to be on the receiving end of that phone call I would not help relieve him of the consequences of choices he’d made.
If you wish to teach your child resilience (the ability to bounce back from a challenge, to learn to cope with the unfairness life choices sometimes bring), then love them enough to hold them accountable. And love them enough to stand back, increasingly during the high school years, and allow them to create their own path.
If they forget an assignment, don’t run it to school. If they “just don’t feel like going to school today,” don’t call them in sick. If they find themselves in jail after a bad decision…allow it to run it’s course. If they have the courage to come to you and tell you they don’t want to play baseball anymore (after all those years of running them to practice or the money spent on private lessons or fancy equipment), LET IT GO.
Don’t abandon them; be there to support and encourage them when they hit those inevitable bumps and twists in the road that adolescence brings.
What does “support and encouragement” look like?
It looks like loving them where they are at, allowing them to figure out the next step, and if they go about things in a way you believe will take them longer to accomplish their goal…encourage each move forward along the way. Don’t do for them what they can do for themselves, but be in tune with your own gut instinct (not your surface anxiety) to ask for help in situations when life challenges get overwhelming.
Most importantly, before you just go ahead and “do” for your child, ask yourself…(a) can my child do this themselves? (b) what is MY motivation for wanting to step in? (c) what am I teaching and modeling for my child if I do step in?
You do not know what your child’s journey is all about, nor do you have control over it. The more you try to control and manipulate their path, the more disconnection you will create between yourself and the child you called into your life to teach you where you need to grow.