• 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