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.
Now that he is in college, I have found myself reflecting on my son’s growing up – especially on those experiences that seem to have had the biggest impact on his development. I’m grateful he was able to spend his elementary and middle school years at Seabury School, the school I head, a school designed for bright, sensitive, inquisitive gifted kids like him. Seabury was a place where he developed strong relationships with amazing children who are already proving to be lifelong friends. Kids who were, and continue to be, kind and supportive and a joy to be around.
But if I am really honest about it, the experiences that have had the biggest impact on making him the responsible, well-rounded, incredible young man he has become were those that were the hardest. When he was young it was dealing with the kid who was constantly provoking fights on the playground, the group projects with kids who didn’t pull their weight and left it all to him, having to room with the most annoying kid on a school trip. As he got older, it was the difficult roommates and the challenging bosses and the frustrating teachers. These challenging experiences, these times of struggle, are the moments that taught him the most about getting along with others and about how to be a friend. They taught him to be resilient, to speak his truth, to choose friends wisely, and especially that he had the resources to solve problems.
As a parent, those times were, and are, hard. It was, and is),heartbreaking to see him struggle. My impulse is to rescue him. To make it easier. To fix what’s wrong. To take the hurt away and make it all better.
I’m glad that I resisted (most of the time). It isn’t easy. Even now that he is an adult, I struggle to listen and support without swooping in to fix it for him. But I know that is what I must do. I realize that many of the traits that serve him best now – independence, leadership, responsibility, confidence, compassion – were developed as he found his way through those difficult times. Of course it was important that he had good times and experienced tremendous support from his friends But if I’m really honest about it, his incredible social skills were honed by navigating situations with the challenging kids.
Rescuing him would have not only deprived him of opportunities for growth, but would have sent the message that I wasn’t confident he could handle whatever challenges faced him. Of course, there were situations that required me to step in because they were too dangerous or too far beyond what he was ready for, but those were few and far between compared to those that required me to step back or come alongside while he worked through the challenge and made mistakes along the way.
As parents, we need to hold each other up, because parenting is hard. We need to help each other find the courage as we watch our kids struggle.
We need to walk through difficult situations with our kids rather than rescuing them from every bump in the road. To let our kids know we have confidence that they can solve problems for themselves rather than sheltering them from adversity. To give them the gift of experiencing 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.