Friday, October 28, 2011

It’s hard to see your child struggle. As a parent, one of the biggest challenges we face is how to handle those moments when our children are unhappy, uncomfortable, frustrated, angry, hurt or overwhelmed. From the time they are born, we worry about them, try to make the right decisions about what they will eat and where they will go to school, and do all we can to help ensure that they can grow up to have the life we dream of for them.

Perhaps it’s that I’m the parent of an eighth grader who is getting ready to head to high school at the end of this year. But I have found myself reflecting recently on the experiences my son has had as he has grown, and especially on those that seem to have had the biggest impact on his development. I am so thankful that he has been able to be at Seabury from the time he was a prekindergarten student. I’m grateful he has been in a place where he has developed strong friendships with amazing children who will, no doubt, be lifelong friends. A place where he has felt safe and supported every step of the way.

But if I look more closely and am really honest about it, many of the experiences and relationships that have had the biggest impact (both in and out of school) on making him the responsible, well-rounded, incredible young man he is becoming were those that were the hardest. The times when someone was mean to him on the playground. The time he left his science fair experiment to the last minute and then couldn’t get it to work. The time he had to work on a group project with kids he didn’t like working with. Situations that made him mad or frustrated or hurt or angry or profoundly sad. They were (and are) the events that have been catalysts for some of the most profound growth in his life.

As a parent, those times were (and are) hard. Even though I knew he was in a safe environment at school, that his teachers cared about him, that he had good friends to talk to and family who loved him, it was still heartbreaking to see him struggle. My impulse was to rescue him. To make it easier. To fix what was wrong for him. To take the hurt away and make it all better.

I’m most thankful for the times I was able to make myself resist. Because I realize that many of the traits that serve him best now – leadership, responsibility, confidence, for example – were developed as he found his way through those difficult times. And that rescuing him not only would have deprived him of those opportunities for growth, but would have sent the message that I didn’t wasn’t confident he could handle whatever challenges faced him – exactly the opposite of what I intended. Of course in life, there are sometimes situations that require me to step in because they are too far beyond what he is ready for, but those are few and far between compared to those that required me to step back tag along for the ride while he worked through the challenge and made mistakes along the way.  

Someone once told me that self esteem doesn’t come from being told you are great. It comes from coming up against something you don’t think you can do, making up your mind to take it on, making mistakes and dealing with setbacks along the way, and then finally succeeding. The doubt and fear and pain and worry and frustration that are part of the journey are what make the accomplishment so sweet – and build confidence for the next time.

As parents, we need to hold each other up, because parenting is hard. We need to help each other have the courage to watch our kids struggle. To walk through difficult situations with them. To give them the chance to solve problems for themselves. To experience the natural consequences of their choices – even when those consequences are hard to take. Because it’s in the times of struggle that they grow most profoundly.

- Sandi Wollum

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogel
Parenting with Love and Logic, by Foster Cline and Jim Fay
The Parents We Mean to Be, by Richard Weissbourd

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