The value of allowing your children to struggle

How can I sit back and watch my adolescent or teenage children struggle? Especially when I have the solution to their problem. Is there a benefit to my child discovering their own life direction independent of me? Am I taking something away from them if I provide a few shortcuts? Is there anything wrong with being “best friends” with my kids? If you have ever asked yourself these questions, read on. You may be surprised by the answers!

Raising children is often counterintuitive. Your natural response on how to engage your child’s problem may not be the best solution. Sure, you can fix the immediate concern, but it will always be your solution, not theirs. Ask yourself if you are solving or supporting your children? Solving is providing answers, shortcuts, and helping them minimize and avoid struggle. Supporting is standing nearby with your hands in your pockets, biting down on a leather belt, and observing the wipeouts and wonders of your child’s own personal discovery and recovery.

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Avoid drawing straight lines! If you see your son or daughter wandering off the path in a seemingly sideways direction, DON’T try to straighten their path. Let them walk head first into a mistake. And when they have struggled long enough with the confusion, and you know it is time to give them the answer … DON’T. Wait until they have found their own solution and praise them for their discovery.

An eagle pushes its newly born young from a cliff-side nest. The baby eaglet plummets toward the ground. If the eaglet wants to fly, it does. If it doesn’t, just before the baby hits the rocks below, the mother eagle swoops underneath, catches the bird in her mouth, and saves it from certain death. She flies upward toward the nest, and just as she reaches the safe proximity of the nest, the mother eagle drops the eaglet again in a free fall toward the rocks below. How close do you let your kids come to the rocks? How often do you save them, convincing yourself it was for their benefit? Do you drop them again, or do you return them to the safety of the nest? Having them securely in the nest is easier, isn’t it? At least for you, it is. You need to put on your adult-parent hat and begin training your kids for the day they leave the house by helping them learn how to survive on their own. Children are guests in your home. If you don’t allow them to experience setbacks on their own, the discovery process as adults will be much harder, and the scars, often deeper.

Suffering, struggling, and failure helps children build an arsenal of experience to help achieve success as an adult. Rebounding from adversity is a process that must be learned, not taught. Our setbacks in life typically create inner strengths that lace together in adulthood. Our subconscious calls on these memories of strife and struggle to help us persevere and assure ourselves that we will succeed again. The result of these tribulations in our children’s lives is the formation of their own personal pride; which awards them the ultimate participation trophy, a badge of adolescent victory. It might sound extreme to say, but stop parenting so much. No more “drone” parents! Our actions of hovering and dominating our children may be intended with love, but they cause harm to your child’s future life.

You don’t want to take away their own growth, creativity, or resourcefulness. Don’t dull the edges of a knife that will one day be needed to cut its way through the gristle of life. It shouldn’t matter what mountain your child is on, only that he or she learns how to climb … falls … recovers … and climbs again. Be patient with your child’s life course. Let them stumble and pick themselves back up. Be sure to praise and affirm them when they do! And when they are in a pit, assure them you have faith they will discover the solution to the setback.

Also, if you have ever called your son or daughter your best friend, you need to look in the mirror and say to yourself, “Quit trying to give your kid everything you didn’t have!” And stop using them as a reset to relive your own childhood. Try saying to your son or daughter, “I don’t want to be your friend. I am one of two people who has been assigned the responsibility of being your parent. You will not always agree with me. But I will always listen to you, even when I think you are wrong. At times, you will be angry with me. I will let you make mistakes. I will encourage you when you pick yourself up. I will smile when you try again. And I might tear when I see your strength in the face of adversity.”

Families have always been stronger when parents exercise wisdom and maturity in teaching their kids difficult life lessons, even though it risks relational adversity between parent and child. We need to stop sacrificing our kids’ personal pride to stimulate our own. Effective parenting is about children discovering their own future, not children adapting to the future we parents think best for them. Let them embrace their unique future and achieve something you could never have done yourself!

Richard Watts is the author of Entitlemania: How Not to Spoil Your Kids And What to Do If You Have and Fables of Fortune: What Rich People Have That You Don’t Want.

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