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  • Amy Travis

Want to Raise Resilient Children? Be an Average Parent

Updated: Sep 27, 2018


My grandmother Rose Collura, my mom’s mom, was born in 1911 to immigrant parents and was the oldest of five children. When her mother died suddenly when she was in her early 30’s, Rose had the unenviable responsibility of caring for her younger siblings. She was twelve years old when she became the primary caregiver in her household. The worst part of this new role for her was that she had to quit school, because her youngest sister was only an infant at the time. I remember her telling me stories about how she used to stand at the front door and cry when she sent the older kids off to school, because she couldn’t go.


And yet, as an adult she not only ran a successful business - she ran two! She and my grandfather bought a building that housed a small grocery store and a bar room with a small apartment on the 2nd floor. My grandfather Angelo operated the bar side but Rose handled all of the bookkeeping and ordered inventory for both businesses. They supported all three of my grandmother’s sisters until they were married and could support themselves. My mother still remembers when all seven of them lived together in that tiny two-bedroom apartment. Rose engineered all of that with only a 6th grade education.


That was a different time, wasn’t it?


The good news is… we’ve come a long way since the Great Depression era and our children will never be in a situation where they would need to overcome such insurmountable circumstances. The bad news is… I’m not convinced that they could.


Our newfound prosperity in this country has created an entirely new set of problems. During my grandmother’s era, great parents were ones that could feed their children, provide a roof over their heads, and make sure that they had the opportunity to graduate from high school. Now we’re obsessed with providing every opportunity for our children to get ahead in an extremely competitive environment: for colleges, for teams, for jobs.


The bar on parenting has risen. And yet our children struggle with anxiety and depression more than ever. It appears that as our ability to provide for our children rises, their ability to cope with life’s challenges falls.


So how do we as parents provide the best for our kids without compromising their ability to fend for themselves?


While I’m not completely out of the woods yet as a parent (we still have a 16-year old son at home), I would say that I’ve discovered the secret to raising healthy, resilient children: being an average parent.


Of course, I’m not advocating for being abusive or neglectful in any way. We average parents love our kids as much as everyone else. But, as I learned from my father, it isn’t my job to make my kids happy; it is my job to raise them to be independent, productive members of society. To do that means that sometimes they aren’t going to like me, and I am never going to be up for the parent of the year award.


All the things we want to protect our kids from, and those things we even feel it’s our job to shield them from - pain, frustration, embarrassment, confusion, and even basic needs such as hunger – are the very struggles that create healthy adults that can fight for themselves. But admittedly, allowing our kids to deal with problems on their own, or even refrain from doing everything in our power to give them the advantage as students or athletes can make us look like bad parents.


For example… when our son was fifteen years old, he was working at a restaurant washing dishes three miles from our house. One day in late October, I was on my way home from my job to take him to work but there was a communication glitch. Even though I would have been home on time to take him, I had no way to get a hold of him. Rather inconveniently, our house phone was down at the time and his cell phone had broken the week before.

When I got home I saw a note on the table that said, “Mom, no one was here to take me to work so I rode my bike.”


Oh my goodness, I thought, what if he gets in an accident? Or, what if the neighbors see that I made Nick ride his bike to work on this cold, rainy day?


But hours later when I knew that he had arrived safely and after I got over my embarrassment, I realized something… he was extremely proud of himself. He told that story for months to anyone who would listen. Nick is not at all shy so that added up to a large pool of people. It’s interesting to note that he received one or both of the following comments from just about every adult to whom he recounted the story: They either gave him their phone number in case he needed a ride in the future (which he took a couple of them up on their offer), or they told him to come back and see them when he got out of school and they would give him a job!


As counter-intuitive as it seems, it’s those very things that do not give you the warm fuzzy feelings about being a great parent that can be the most beneficial in developing all of those necessary traits that lead to exceptional adults.


To name a few:

· Creating and enforcing a curfew

· Saying no – no you can’t go to that party; no, sorry, we can’t go on vacation this year; no, I can’t give you money for gas

· Sending your teenaged daughter back to change her clothes, even if it means that she will miss her ride and having to take the bus

· Having difficult conversations about drugs, sex, relationships


If you start to question if you are a terrible parent – it’s possible that you’re on the right track. We have worked so hard to give our kids everything that we didn’t have, that we forget to give them the things that we did have.


I would like to highlight three things that average parents should give, and three things that we should withhold:


Three Things Average Parents Give Their Children

1. Your time

It sounds easy enough, but it’s not. We have an abundance of everything these days, except time. To further complicate this issue, as our kids get older they don’t even want us around. I was a stay-at-home mom until my oldest was almost 18. I remember him and his sister begging me to get a job so that we could go on vacation and buy better hockey equipment.


When our youngest was in first grade I went back to work full-time so that my husband could start his own business. We finally had more money for “stuff” but this created a new set of challenges. This change in employment for both of us forced a shift in family responsibilities, as well. We received healthcare benefits from my employer, but the job was over 45 minutes from home and kept me away for nearly 11 hours a day. As a result, Perry took on the shopping, cooking, and the responsibility for getting Nick on and off of the school bus. Needless to say, after being home for the previous 17 years and being responsible for making dinner every night, I LOVED going back to work.


Two years into this process, I heard Nick tell another adult that he was being raised by his father! That was crushing. I remember thinking… you’ve got to be kidding me. I was home with this kid from the time he was born until he was old enough to go to school but Dad was now the parent of choice and I was chopped liver.


But even when they don’t want us around, the time, attention, and affection that we give our kids during their developmental years are invaluable toward developing strong adults.


2. Your supervision

Psychologists have discovered that children perceive monitoring as a way of showing care and affection[1]. As much as they pretend they hate it when we tell them no, listen to what your son says the next time you tell him that he can’t go somewhere with his friend. If the conversations in your house are anything like the conversations in my house your child will say, “but Danny is allowed to go… HIS PARENTS DON’T CARE.” They hate us because we don’t allow them to do everything they want to do, even though they know in the back of their minds that they shouldn’t be doing them. If you think about, our kids are paying us a back-handed compliment.


A very tragic example of lack of supervision gone wrong was Eric Harris, one of the shooters at Columbine High School in 1999. When the police searched the Harris house after the shooting they found a shotgun, shells and a bomb in his bedroom. Apparently, his mother never ventured into room during the six months he was plotting the attack.[2]


3. Yourself – unfiltered

As difficult as it is, it’s important that our children see our flaws and are able to observe the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let them see how you deal with difficult family members, money problems, neighbors, etc.


Resist the temptation to be “perfect.” Some of us find that easier to do than others. My 24-year old daughter Val reminded me just recently that we made her and her older brother buy their lunches at school once they turned 16 and started working. Money was so tight at that time in our lives that our options were limited and we needed them to pitch in. Although I’m not proud of that, I know of parents that would go into debt before they would allow their children to know they were struggling to pay the bills.


When you are fighting the urge to put on a front for your children, remember this… perfect parents create anxious kids.[3]


Three Things Average Parents Withhold from their Children

1. Some of their wants

Parenting experts say that accommodating our children’s every need will actually fuel anxiety, “whenever we try to provide certainty and comfort, we are getting in the way of children being able to develop their own problem-solving and mastery.”[4] For example, making sure that you arrive at the school 15 minutes early so that your child won’t have to wait for you can backfire. What happens when one day, because of circumstances out side of your control you’re late? They panic.


2. Some of the answers

Val was always the one that liked to work with my husband on home-improvement projects. She was 13 years old when Perry was gutting the lathe and plaster from the living room of our old farm house. My husband would rip it out and dump it outside the window into the wheel barrel. Val’s job was to take the full wheel barrel and dump it over the hill. She commented that it was really heavy but it wasn’t until much later that Perry noticed that the wheel on the wheel barrel was completely deflated! She had been dragging 100 lb. loads across the yard for three hours using a defective piece of equipment.


It’s my personal observation that providing our kids with state-of-the-art sports equipment, for example, at no personal expense (to them, not us) robs them of the creativity and resourcefulness they will need when starting families of their own with limited resources. Fortunately for us, our oldest son Nate was smaller than many of his friends on the hockey team so he was the grateful recipient of their old skates and sticks they had outgrown.


3. Only some of the risks

I saw a segment on the news a few months ago about Dump Adventure Playgrounds. This concept was first developed after World War II when sociologists were studying the impact of war and found kids happily playing on the mounds of rubble.[5] This idea was first brought to the US in the 1970’s but lost popularity due to rising safety concerns.


This brand of playground has resurfaced in New York in the past few years because researchers are starting to realize the tremendous impact that this form of unstructured, uninhibited play has on intellectual, social, and physical development. These playgrounds are home to old tires, planks of wood, nails, saws, hammers, drills and other junk that children could use to construct their own masterpieces. They also come equipped with “playworkers” to supervise since there is a strict no-parent rule.


What is even more remarkable than the fact that parents are allowing their children to play under such dangerous conditions is the discovery that many of the safety concerns may be unwarranted. “In every study that I’ve found that has been done, adventure playgrounds have much lower levels of serious injury than your sort of traditional playgrounds,” said Reilly Wilson, graduate student for the Children’s Environments Research Group, focusing on adventure playgrounds. “Part of it is that regular playgrounds, as it were, are designed for safety and young people know that. So when young people play on a regular playground they often pay less attention to risks.”[6]


It’s important for us to recognize that our job as parents is not to protect our child from every risk, but to give them the skills they need to know in order to protect themselves. And then teach them how to pick up the pieces and move forward, when necessary. Becoming an average parent will not only lower their anxiety level, but ours, too!


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[1] VA, S. (2018). Monitoring Your Child | SCAN. Retrieved from https://www.scanva.org/support-for-parents/parent-resource-center-2/monitoring-your-child/

[2] The Columbine High School Tragedy: The Denver Post. (1999). Retrieved from http://extras.denverpost.com/news/col1122.htm

[3] Code, D. (2009). To raise happy kids, put your marriage first. Chicago: Crossroad Pub. Co.

[4] Raising Resilient Kids | Ican. (2018). Retrieved from http://icanaz.org/raising-resilient-kids

[5] CBS News. Junkyard or playground paradise? Kids making their own adventures. (2016). [TV program]

[6] CBS News. Junkyard or playground paradise? Kids making their own adventures. (2016). [TV program]

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Amy Travis

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