Help Your Child to Grow Wings

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“No one else has to do chores,” my son complained. “And if the do, they get PAID.”
“Hmmm…well, that is not the way we do it in our family,” I said, repeating the very words I swore I would never say to my own kids when I was a furious girl with the very same complaints.
And throughout our four kids’ childhood there were more grumbles:

“Everyone else gets a ride to school, they don’t have to take the bus…”
“Why can’t I have my own computer, why do I have to share with everyone else?”
“Some kids don’t have to earn half for a bike, they just get it!”

I wouldn’t lobby for the best teacher in 4th grade, talk a coach into playing my second string player, or manage homework. It all seemed like misplaced energy to me. A good enough teacher would accustom a child to the wide range of bosses in her adult working world; there are others who are smarter or more athletic in life, we are not always the stars; if you choose not to do homework, you choose no free time to play. “It’s up to you, not me,” I would say with a shrug.

A wise man once told me we are defined more by our rages and failures than anything else; that is not the soft and the easy that makes us grow, it is uncertainty and doubt, being cut loose to face the consequences of what befalls us that develops a deeper, more meaningful existence. Learning to deal with the inevitable bumps and bruises in life begins in childhood. Today most kids who live above the poverty line are managed, monitored and sheltered from failure. From the moment they wake, to falling into bed at night, they are driven by adults from class to activity to lessons set up for success. Everyone gets a trophy! Everyone is a winner! And if not, it is the mean teacher or the harsh coach or the cranky neighbor’s fault who won’t buy that Little League fundraiser candy bar.

It is a disservice to our children to point the finger to others for our collapse. Childhood is the time, under a parent’s watchful eye, to explain our role in the bungles and issues we trip over. For if we can understand the part we played, we can change it future forward. If it is mitigated and fixed, if we shield our kids from defeat, they will never grow the mental muscles and resources needed to overcome it. Life becomes a series of checkmates with no way out except with the help of mama and daddy. Do you want to protect and steer them at 20? At 30?

Of course we do! If only we could guide our children with all our accumulated wisdom, but the wisdom we gained was through our own losses and ruptures.

A caterpillar struggles to emerge from a tight cocoon. If we help and make a tiny cut in the chrysalis to release the butterfly inside, its wings will remain shriveled and shrunken for its short life, for it is the grinding effort to split the cocoon that pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings that develop them for flight. Without the struggle, there are no viable wings.

And so it is with our children. As difficult as it may be to stand aside and watch them sweat and cry with the work it takes to be free, it is the only way to grow the wings to fly.

And here is a fabulous interview on NPR:  “Why Children Aren’t Behaving and What You Can Do About It” that will give you all the reasons why we must give them rages and failure.

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