Thursday, April 16, 2015

How My "Oops!" Parenting Moment Became Welcome Adversity For My Kids

Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to attend a speaking event with Cheryl Strayed, best-selling author of Wild, which as the universe would have it was the perfect prep for my lesson in parenting that week.

The whole of Cheryl's speech was riveting but there was one particular nugget that stuck with me as she spoke of lessons learned from her solo journey across the Pacific Crest Trail. She described how it served as a rite-of-passage for her, something most cultures once provided as children became adults. The common core among all rites-of-passage, she said, include a physically difficult challenge with elements of deprivation that is accomplished in solitude.

That resonated with me as an endurance athlete and was how I described why I trained and raced for marathons and triathlons some 20 years ago to my then octogenarian grandfather. I told him if I had been born 100 years earlier I would have been one of those people in a covered wagon heading west. This modern era of ours doesn't provide many opportunities to experience the kind of physical struggle that was an integral part of life for our ancestors. My struggle as an endurance athlete was fabricated, yes, but in a way that filled the yearning to dig deep, which has been passed down in my DNA by my pioneering forefathers.

Can we all agree that adversity can be good for us? Can we agree that in general, kids growing up in middle and upper class families at least, don't experience a whole lot of adversity? In fact, protecting our kids from adversity seems to have become part of our jobs as parents; to keep our kids safe; to always be there when our kids are in need. Can we all agree then that what we might think of as parenting failures might indeed be just the adversity our kids need?

So it was in HINDSIGHT, after recalling Cheryl's speech, that I realized I did my kids a favor last week when I was downtown at a writing conference and unable to be there for them. They got off the bus in the driving rain (which turned to sleet) and discovered that the garage code, which normally provides entry to the house, was not working. My kids don't have cell phones. Did I mention my husband was traveling?

Without any help from me, they devised a plan: one 11-year-old stayed under the porch with the 6-year-old, while the other 11-year-old and 9-year-old walked about a half-mile to our neighbor's house (not the closest neighbor, but the one with kids on the same bus where they knew an adult was home). My neighbor called me and we managed to get the kids safely inside without me having to leave my writing conference early.

Once all was said and done (i.e. collecting myself after sobbing over the fact that this one time I was not home for them was when they needed me), I realized this opportunity in adversity was good for us. While not exactly hiking the PCT trail solo, this microcosm of a rite-of-passage for my kids provided a challenge without a parent to guide them (deprived of a cell phone and umbrella). I learned my kids are quite competent without me. They handled the situation sensibly and bravely; I was proud of them and told them so. No doubt, they gained a new measure of confidence in themselves (and me in them, ahem).

I can't say I'll set up these sort of "traps" for them as a way to gain their independence, but it certainly helps knowing these mishaps can provide good training ground to allow them to think on their feet and solve problems on their own, while letting me off the hook to be the perfect parent. If they desire a bigger physical challenge, well, they can always sign up for a triathlon.

More about motherhood and raising a fit family is on my website,

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