As a parent, I want my kids to be loved, cared and protected. In fact, just about everything I do as a parent is to build esteem in them and protect them from this big bad world. But as a youth worker, I know that building esteem as an end causes all sorts of problem. The true goal of parenting is to build character in our children. And as they build character, they will build esteem.
In this endeavor to build character, there is one ingredient that is sorely missing in my students, and am worried is missing in my own kids. The core value of protection, and in practicality, protection at all costs, takes away the one thing that builds character the most, suffering.
Before you freak out, I am not saying that we neglect our kids or intentionally put them in harmful situations. But what I am suggesting is that we back the helicopter off a bit and allow them to suffer the consequences of their actions.
A couple of case studies
I can't tell you the amount of conversations I have had with parents who are so frustrated with their kids and they way they seem to not care about school. In an effort to save their kids from community college, they step in at every turn to rescue the poor choices of their children.
Their 7th grader is failing math because they aren't doing their homework or studying for tests. The solution, to keep them home from youth group, get them a tutor, hold their hands back to school so they turn in their homework, and then follow up personally with the teacher.
By flying the helicopter in, parents are denying their children an awesome opportunity for character development. What happens if your son really does fail 7th grade math. Dealing with all the consequences of failing math in 7th grade made feel big to you and your son, but compared to the types of failures that happen in their 20's with no character are exponentially worse.
Or how about the conversation where someone's daughter feels excluded from a clique at school or youth group. This is an awesome opportunity for parents to fly in their helicopter and save the day. Being excluded, dealing with awful social situations are part of the adolescent journey. Instead of bullying the others around you so your daughter doesn't feel bad, this suffering allows your daughter to develop character and a thicker skin.
Sometimes it is actually their fault and they need to own that. Sometimes the crowd your daughter is traveling in is the fast crowd and your daughter isn't. This exclusion might be a blessing. But it is one that needs to be navigated by them with the support of you, not your intervention. This suffering builds character. The character built with this mini drama is 10x's better than the drama and chaos that happens on their dorm floor their freshman year in college.
Scripture doesn't promise that we will be happy.
It does promise that those of us who decide to follow Jesus share in his glory. But we also will share in his suffering. Some of this suffering is external, some of it is spiritual, some of it is out of our control, and much of it is within our control. But no matter what, suffering is the number one ingredient that leads to character development.
In Romans 5:1-5 it says:
5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Verses 1 and 2 are all about the goodies we have as a result of putting our faith in Christ. We have peace with God and now have access to Him. And most importantly we have hope. But this hope is only ours after the process of character development. If we are truly going to lean into all of these blessings, scripture says that we will lean into our suffering.
It is suffering that produces perseverance: I am always blown away by stories of people who survived POW from WWII like in that book Unbreakable. Or people who survive the loss of a child. I think, if God took my children or wife from me it would be over! I would curl into a ball and die. But God made humans with an amazing ability to survive. Those who persevere through suffering realize that there is life on the other side.
Perseverance produces character: I had an intern break up with her boyfriend and sat on my couch not having the strength to even sit up. She sat and bawled all night. For her, this was suffering. Getting through it was perseverance. And now that she is on the other side, she has a new perspective of what is difficult and a better understanding of her own ability to get through. When You add the faith component, you realize that God also is gracious in providing peace and healing in these seasons of suffering. Wether they are small like failing 7th grade math or not being invited to a birthday party, to larger being dumped by the man you thought you were going to marry, or huge losing a home, job, or a love one. In all of these sufferings, God promises to walk with us through it as we persevere, and develop character.
And it is our character that produces hope: Hope is the secret ingredient to pulling through every difficult situation. Even the author of the Hunger Games knows this. They fight hard because they have hope. Without hope, people give up. Hope is unseen and something that is difficult to grasp. But when we have suffered, persevered to the other side, we have developed character, and because of character we realize that there is life on the other side. With this fresh understanding of hope we are no longer swayed by our circumstances, by our relational drama, by our grades, or by the chaos that unexpectantly crashes into our lives.
When we fly that helicopter too close and intervene every time our child suffers, we are actually not protecting them, we are stealing hope from them.
They need to understand their life has consequences, that life is chaotic and awful things happen. Suffering is part of this broken world.
If we can allow them to walk in the suffering, we will actually be helping them learn about perseverance, build character, and live into hope! How much better when these sufferings happen in the world of middle school, a world that we actually have some control and the consequences are small. The result with be developing kids of character so that when the true sufferings of life fall upon them in adulthood, they will not be crushed, but have the character to persevere because they have HOPE!
Back that helicopter off. Building self esteem can not be the end. Character is the end and esteem gets to be the byproduct. And the key ingredient, unfortunantly, is suffering.