We Shouldn't Always Shield Our Children From Pain

The depraved excepted, parents do not enjoy making children unhappy. Nevertheless, sometimes it is in a child's best interest that parents - while not deliberately trying to induce unhappiness - not make any effort to prevent the child from experiencing, unbuffered, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Case in point: My daughter, Amy, now in her 40s with a family of her own, who recently reminded me of something that transpired between us when she was 14 and in the eighth grade.

One day, Amy came home from school looking as if life itself had betrayed her. After the obligatory probing that one must do with this age child, Amy finally opened up to her mother and me. She had no friends, she told us. All of the other girls were in groups (read: cliques) and none of them would accept her.

"Which of these groups would you like to belong to, Amy?'' I asked, and upon hearing her answer followed up with, "And what would you have to do to become a member of this group?''

With some help, Amy revealed that membership in that particular clique was contingent upon wearing a certain "uniform,'' using a certain kind and amount of makeup, talking a certain way, flirting with certain boys, taking certain classes and so on.

"Is that you, Amy?'' I asked. "Are you comfortable with all of those things?''

No, she admitted, but she wanted friends and was feeling desperate enough to do just about anything to have some. To the suggestion that she make friends with some other girls who had been likewise rejected by the "in'' crowds, Amy protested that the girls in question were "nerds.'' She, of course, although in the same boat, was definitely not a nerd, just misunderstood.

Looking down the road

My wife, Willie, shared that a similar situation had befallen her around the same time in junior high school and these things resolve themselves in time, etc., etc., but this failed to console Amy. Her mother looked at me.

I took a deep breath and said words to the effect that although painful, this was actually a good thing. Why? Because Amy was learning how to stand on her own two feet, to not go along with the crowd for the sake of acceptance, and that this would be of inestimable benefit to her later, farther down the road than she was then capable of seeing. Her mother agreed, Amy had nothing more to say and the conversation was over.

Fast-forward to one of Amy's visits home from college. While reminiscing about her childhood, she brought up the above incident and shared that she had "hated'' me for saying what I'd said.

"I thought you didn't understand, Dad,'' she said. But wait! She followed that statement with: "But now I understand what you meant, and you were right. That was good for me.''

In fact, Amy, without really realizing it, had never, through junior high or high school, succumbed to peer pressure in any disadvantageous manner. She had marched to her own drummer, still does, and likes that about herself, even if the consequences are not always wonderful.

It took years to see that not being accepted during junior high school was the root of her feisty individualism, but she eventually did.

The point: One of a parent's jobs is that of interpreting reality for children. The interpretation of any given experience may make a child unhappy in the present and strengthen him/her in the future. Parents need to always keep in mind that while the present is not irrelevant, it is the future that matters more.

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