it's okay to let your kids struggle (and why i'm so terrible at it)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

It's Saturday, and in my house Saturdays are for Costco and naps and movies (when it's snowing) and bike rides (when it's not) and great barbeque for dinner.  To honor my commitment, and because several of you were not here last August, I thought I would share one of my favorite posts from the early days of A Wide Mercy.

photo by my very talented friend Jesse

Lunch time, and we are in the park.  Rather, I am attempting to leave the park, and it's not going very well.  Three mobile children, two bikes, one stroller, and one dog are all in my possession, and each has a different agenda.  The dog wants to mark every fixture, the boys are riding in two separate directions (neither of which lead back to the car), and the two-year-old, who has ventured out of the house for the first time without a diaper, refuses to walk in her soiled pants.  The parking lot seems to be stretching away from us.  It's excruciatingly slow, but we plod along.  

Then, I hear a cry behind me.  "My bike's broken!  I can't ride it!  I need help!!" 

I'm a little flustered with my son's dawdling, but I know him well enough to know his cry is legitimate.  But my hands, literally, are full.  I am out of appendages, and have no means to carry a thirty pound bike two hundred yards to the car.  I look toward him and see his brakes are locked.  "Your dad will work on it when he gets home," I call.  "Just walk it to the car."  

"I can't!  It's too hard!  I need help!!"

I walk on. 

Several minutes later I am finally standing beside the van.  I buckle in the two little ones, and as I fold the stroller I realize my son has attracted a crowd.  A jogger and an older couple are gathered, talking over him.  One lady holds my son's handle bars; the other, I sense, is trying to figure out to whom this child belongs.  I call his name, but I do not go to him.  "You're almost there buddy!  You can walk your own bike!"  Spotting me, the older lady hands his bike back, and the crowd disperses, absolved of responsibility for a whiney child with a broken bike in the blazing sun.

"It's hard!  It's too hot!  The back wheel is stuck!"

I load the stroller, locate a missing brother, and remain silent.  When I look up again, my son is almost to the car, and he is grinning.  Big.

"Hey Mom!  The brakes were only tangled!  I fixed it myself!  My wheels work again!"

I return his grin.  "I'm so proud of you.  Just think: If I'd carried your bike, you never would have realized you could fix it yourself."

(Same park, different day.  Still dawdling.)
I want to stop here.  I want to say allowing our kids to push through is a gift to them, and tell how they benefit from the burn of hard work and sense of accomplishment.  I would hit "publish" and smile at my post.  But I would be a hypocrite if I did.

The truth is, if I had just one child, probably even two, I would have carried his bike.

My son earned a little self-confidence today.  In my own life, I know the thrill of finishing something hard, the satisfaction of a job well done.  But I would never choose to let them struggle, because the fear that wakes me up at night is this:  How will my adult children judge me?  Will they remember only that I left them on a path to walk alone when their bike was broken?  How do I know what decisions lead to a lifelong relationship with my kids, and what shuts one down?

The question haunts me.  If possible, it would dictate virtually every interaction and parenting decision.  When I had only one child, it did.

But God gave me four children in six years.  Necessity dictates that I let them struggle, persevere, and be more independent, not because of a deep conviction but because I simply don't have the capacity to do anything else.  

By mothering a large family, I am forced to have faith.  I must trust love really does cover a multitude of sins, and motivations weigh more than individual decisions.  God really does love them too, and He has strategically drawn us together, in a specific order and time frame.  They push through because they have to, because Mom is pushing a stroller and holding a toddler's hand, and one day it will shape who they are.  I have to believe God is shaping their personalities through early experiences like this one, and it will produce good fruit.  I have to continually lay down my insecurities, and trust God.

Left to my own devices, I would never choose to let my children struggle, and I would parent my children out of insecurity and fear.  But God loves us too much to leave us to our devices. 

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