Fixing your kids’ problems seems to be the better solution, instead, this type of parental love can cripple their coping abilities. Here’s why.
by Lori Gurtman | Lori Gurtman lives in Aspen, Colorado with her husband, two teenage children, and Old English Sheepdog. Reading and writing are her favorite escape, but when she isn’t doing that, she can be found on the mountain: hiking, biking, or skiing. Lori is also a published author, freelance writer, certified proofreader, and college essay tutor—who is passionate about empowering her students to write from their hearts. Follow her on Twitter @lorigurtman.
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Recently, I was invited to a workshop for parents facilitated by Vicky Chehebar, a parenting coach. My initial reaction was to decline the invitation. With one child away at college and another graduating high school in less than two years, I didn’t think the information would be relevant to my life. I was wrong.
I met Vicky at a holiday party a few months ago. I felt an instant connection to her, so I agreed to attend the lecture to show my support—and I’m glad I did.
There were many important lessons that Vicky shared. Still, the one that stood out for me is the importance of giving our children the tools to process uncomfortable feelings so that they can activate their own solutions.
To further clarify, let’s imagine that my daughter, Taylor, is eight years old.
Taylor comes home from school one afternoon in tears. Her two best friends, for no apparent reason, told Taylor they didn’t want to play with her at recess. Instead of finding other girls to hang out with, Taylor sat on a bench and sulked.
How should a parent handle situations like these?
Parents, particularly mothers, want to fix things for their children. Their hurt becomes our hurt, so, oftentimes, we do what we can to mend their broken hearts.
My initial reaction to Taylor’s distress is anger toward her friends. I might call the girls’ mothers to tell them what happened at school, but I won’t do that. I might consider telling Taylor that her friends aren’t lovely and that she should find new ones, but I won’t. I could advise Taylor to get back at her friends and make them jealous, but I won’t do that either.
Instead, I try to cheer Taylor up, maybe suggest we go out for ice cream or invite a different friend to come over. Not wanting Taylor to be sad, I look for ways to soften her hurt.
According to Vicky, this approach isn’t in Taylor’s best interest.
It’s okay to acknowledge my daughter’s sadness and tell her I’m sorry she’s upset, but then, it’s up to Taylor to figure out how to deal with her friends. Vicky shed light on an alternative solution, one that may seem difficult at first but will ultimately empower Taylor in the long run. She recommends giving Taylor a safe space to feel her pain rather than interfere.
Our gut instincts are powerful. They know more than our ego-run minds. But, too often, it’s hard to hear our inner voice speaking to us when we’re upset.
Vicky’s advice is twofold. First, she says that allowing our children to be sad and cry is normal. These emotions need to be felt before they can be released. The struggle is an integral part of the human experience—and an opportunity for growth. It teaches resiliency.
According to Vicky, overcoming challenges is similar to learning how to swim. In the beginning, you’re going to swallow water. It may not feel good, but flailing will eventually lead to floating with proper guidance and perseverance.
Parents need to guide their children in the right direction, act as a referee, and then allow their child to access their own power.
The second part of the advice typically occurs when the child’s emotions settle down. The answers to our problems will be revealed in a nonreactive state when the mind is still.
“Quiet the mind, and the soul will speak.” ––Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati
Our guts always know what’s best for us. The problem is that we let our thinking and problem-solving egos get in the way, often clouding our judgment.
Back to the example with Taylor, she might cry to sleep that evening, but hopefully, she’ll wake up the next day clear-headed. At school, she’ll follow her intuition on how to deal with her friends at recess. Maybe she decides that her friends aren’t good friends and she’ll try to find new ones, or she’ll talk to them and let them know how they made her feel.
Most importantly, Taylor will learn how to tune in to her higher self and discover the answers from within.
Many years ago, I read an article in The New York Times written by a psychologist treating patients in their twenties suffering from depression. These young adults were raised in affluent homes with present and involved parents. The parent hired a tutor if the child wasn’t doing well in school. If the child wasn’t playing a sport well, the parent hired a private coach. If the child forgot their homework, the parent dropped it off at school.
The therapist was perplexed as to why these twentysomethings, who grew up in idyllic families, were depressed.
It soon dawned on the therapist what went wrong. The parents of her patients were so busy fixing their children’s problems that these kids were never given any room to fail, face hardship, or process their sadness. These young adults were now drowning in despair simply because they didn’t have the wherewithal to manage their feelings.
Parents want what’s best for their children. We want our kids to be happy—but I now understand, thanks to Vicky, that my job isn’t to make them happy but to let them feel their emotions and rely on their inner guidance to help them tackle whatever challenges life throws their way.