A friend of mine recently took her toddler to his two-year check-up. The pediatrician took one look at the bruises along his shins and the scrapes on his knees and exclaimed, “This is what I like to see!” Too many of her young patients come in without a scratch on them, she explained. “Bruises and scrapes mean he’s running, jumping, and playing like a child should. If he’s falling down, it means he’s learning how to get back up.”
It made me think about the scrapes (and breaks!) my own kids have exhibited over the years. My family is very active, so I’m no stranger to bruised shins. In fact, just the other day my youngest, Abigail who is four years old, said, “Mommy, why do I have all these bruises on my legs?” She was concerned because she doesn’t see that on my legs. While they have plenty of opportunities to get banged up, I began to wonder if I have been unwittingly preventing my kids from falling down in other ways.
Childhood is rife with opportunities to “fall.” It’s natural for us to want to catch them before they hit the ground. Your child’s science project is due and she hasn’t even started yet. Or, he’s running for class president, fears he won’t gain enough votes, and wants to drop out. Or, she is too nervous to perform at the recital and considers giving up piano lessons. In any of these instances, our impulses might be to step in and ease the burden. But would we really be helping them in the end?
Kabbalah teaches us that the greatest lessons are found in our struggles. Opposition makes us more resilient. Our job as a parent is not to rescue our children from distress, but to stand alongside them, giving them the courage to do hard things in life. Let’s be honest, if given the easy way out, our kids are going to take it. And if we’re really being honest, most adults would too.
“Yeah Mom, I’m pretty sure I’m going to fail and it’s going to suck. But I’m going to give this really hard thing a try anyway.”
– Said no child ever
They need us to show them discomfort is okay. Indeed, the hardest thing we may ever do is stand by while our child falls.
In the 1980s scientists performed a grand experiment and created a perfect living environment: a biodome. Under a large glass dome grew an ecosystem in a completely controlled environment. The water was purified, the air filtered – a kind of vegetation utopia. The goal was to observe the interactions between humans and nature.
A strange thing began happening that baffled scientists. When the trees in the biodome grew to a certain height, they fell over. They couldn’t understand why this was happening to seemingly healthy trees. Finally, the scientists realized what important element they forgot to work into the artificial biodome environment: wind. Wind resistance encourages the roots systems of trees to stretch deeply into the earth. With a strong and deep foundation, trees can grow tall.
There is much we can learn from nature. Like trees, we need resistance to build fortitude. My husband, Michael Berg, says, “We have been mistaken about what we should desire for our lives. We must ask not for a life of ease, but for the ability to strive tirelessly against obstacles and for opportunities to do so.” Our experiences with opposition give us the strength we need to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. We need to do hard things. Over time, doing hard things builds our ability to bounce back, to bend with the wind. And isn’t this exactly what we want for our children?
At Abigail’s first ice skating lesson, I needed to literally cover my eyes or I was going to run (prepared to slip and slide) in my sneakers on the ice to stop her from falling. It was as hard for me to watch as it was for her to stay upright on her skates. Learning a new skill requires patience and practice. It would be easy for me to swoop in and save her. Yet, that robs her of a lesson in perseverance. My kids are more confident and more resilient when I allow them to fall every now and again – even if I have to hide my eyes while doing it!
Obviously, we will leap to save our children from a serious injury. Our need to protect our kids from harm will always win in a dangerous situation. Though, a child reared in a bubble – or a glass dome for that matter – will not learn to confront adversity with confidence, and this can harm them in other ways. Still, the hard things can be scary, they shouldn’t have to go at it alone. Be there; hold their hands when they need you, but be mindful of when it’s time to step back and let them grow their roots. Let them feel the wind and learn to sway. They’ll be stronger for it.