Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stuggling with a Struggle

Don't mistake me for a masochist, hear me out.

There's a student at Monmouth College who was highlighted in our local newspaper recently. He's trying to make it into the music business as a performer. Apparently he's had some breakthroughs and may indeed be on his way to making a name for himself. That's cool, right?

Realizing the odds are not in his favor to have long term success performing, the student said he is learning the business side of the industry as well studying music management.

Smart, right?

I thought so too. Until I read his quote, "I am getting older. My parents don't want me to graduate (and struggle). It is a difficult road to follow," he said, adding he has worked to learn "as many different aspects of the music business as possible.”

Which makes me ask the question: why are we so afraid of the struggle?

So many people spend so much time and effort avoiding difficulty and work ceaselessly to make sure they never struggle. When did we adopt the easy-street philosophy in our culture? I mean my grandparents, just one generation ago, certainly didn't live this way.

Isn't it exhausting to spend so much energy avoiding something that we can't avoid anyway?

For example, when my children were learning to walk I let them practice walking. They had to struggle to learn how to put one foot in front of the other. They had to test their leg muscles to see if they'd hold up under their weight and they had to strain and work and sometimes, especially at first, they fell down.

And I let them. I didn't pick them up instead; I stood by, offered encouragement and bid them to try it all over again. I literally instigated them to try to walk again knowing full well they would probably fall and fail. Again and again. Over and over.

As parents we know if kids don't work through the struggle of learning to walk - they won't learn to walk.

Likewise if we don't let our kids work through the struggle of relationships, friendships, brokenness, unfair treatment, dashed expectations and disappointments how will they ever learn?

My thirteen year old son has biceps. I know because he shows them off to us on a daily basis. Twice a week in P.E. his instructor takes the class to the weight room. When my boy first started lifting weights he could only lift the 40 pound bar. Now, after a semester, only three other boys in the whole 7th grade can lift more than him. He's very proud of this fact and he's aiming to be the record holder by the end of the year.

My son has learned the only way to lift more weight is to add more weight -little by little- to his limit. He must consciously make his work harder in order to get better. He must struggle.

He learned how to walk by struggling and he is getting stronger by struggling. Maybe there is a lesson for me to learn in these examples. Maybe it's a good idea for me let my kid struggle in other areas.

But man, as a parent doesn't it just rip your heart out when your kid is trying and failing and is completely disappointed?

The strength to be gained from a struggle however, is the reason why we should let our kids do their homework on their own
(so they can see and fix their mistakes)
and why we shouldn't buy them everything they want
(so they can appreciate the concept of hard earned money)
and why when something doesn't go their way we consider not fixing it because we know there is a lesson to be learned. We know the struggle will make them stronger in the long run.

But as a mom of five kids I know firsthand that realizing this is good for our kids doesn't make it easy to watch them struggle. Yet we have a great assurance in knowing it is good for them. It’s hard for us, but good for them.

Don't be afraid of hard. Not in your own life and certainly not in your child's. Whether you feel brave enough to dive headlong into struggle or wade in little by little, rest assured that the struggle is not to be feared. I fear rather what will happen if we raise our children in the absence of struggle. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!

Stephanie is a Parent Educator for the Monmouth-Roseville School District. She blogs at and is available for parent consultation. This article appears in the 1/24/12 edition of The Daily Review Atlas as a part of her Practical Parenting series.

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