The importance of letting our kids struggle & find their own way

I just read this comment on this very interesting post on Medium and need to share:

The following story heard from my friend helped change my approach to dealing with my kids which beautifully captures the essence of your article.

A man couldn’t watch a struggling butterfly trying to make its way out of the cocoon, notwithstanding the struggle he helped make a larger hole in the cocoon thinking he might ease the process and can get to see butterfly fly early on.

Little did he realize that this had to be endured by the butterfly, as it was the only way that the bodily liquid in butterfly would squeeze it’s way into the wings, making it power it’s wings for its first takeoff.

Unfortunately, the butterfly just crawled around with withered wings and huge body. It was never able to fly all through its life.

This is such an important life lesson for raising kids that as parents we need to know when to handhold and when not to.

This is a parenting method I stand firmly behind, and I’m so glad to have found a metaphor that helps to shed light on why it’s so important to let our kids struggle. It’s such a strong instinct as a mom to protect your kid from struggling. But we sometimes forget that struggle is such a crucial part of growth and self-sufficiency.

The issue for parents is to know when to help our kids, and when to allow them to struggle. When to allow them to feel discomfort for the sake of letting them learn for themselves, in their own time, in their own way.

One example of this is when your infant is first learning how to walk. The progression is very slow. It starts with them learning to sit. Then they can get onto all fours. Then they can crawl. Then they can pull themselves up onto the couch. Then they can cruise the couch. And one day, they’ll shock you as they plunge into the unknown and take their first step away from the couch, while you try to scrape your jaw off the floor.

As parents, we want to help our kids succeed, and we often think that our role in helping them achieve milestones is more important than it is. Our role in this situation (in my opinion) is more based on being there to support, protect their safety and help when asked. We need to be fully present and aware of our child’s cues, but we don’t need to hold their hands and help them walk before they’ve asked for it or shown they’re ready (I’m guilty of having done this with my son, but I’ve since realized that it’s not something I think is necessary. I don’t beat myself up about it at all as it’s not actually shown to be negative for your baby’s physical development to do so — I’ve merely shifted my perspective).

In the age of social media, we see parents promoting every milestone their kid achieves like a badge of honor. But what if these milestones aren’t about the parent at all? What if every child needs to reach their milestones at their own pace, in their own time, with nothing but the loving support of their parents. Kids don’t need to be taught how to walk. They teach themselves. Our help might speed up the process, but is that actually good for the kids, or just good for our self-esteem? So we can get that badge of honor sooner and feel a little more proud that we have an “early walker”? Because if we have an early walker, it must say something about our parenting skills, right? Or maybe it says something about the wonderful genes we’ve imparted onto our offspring, like, look at my kid, he’s so advanced, and I created him!

None of these thoughts were ones I held consciously as I revelled in holding my son up to walk before his legs were stable enough to do so on their own. But I know that deep down, there was an element of self-serving when my son had walked just before his first birthday thanks to my physical “help”.

While I’m certainly not bashing other parents who choose to help their kids walk early (like I said, I’ve been that parent and my kid turned out pretty great so far — I mean, he’s only two so I’ll report back in a few years! lol), it’s not something that fits with the general parenting method that resonated with me. My reasoning for this shift in perspective is more about setting myself up in the right mindset as a parent so I act in a way that is actually about the best interest of my kid, rather than making decisions to advance his development and milestones at the pace I’ve decided will best suit my bragging rights as a parent.

Parenting is SO individual and it can be such a touchy subject. I’m a super non-confrontational person so writing posts like this scare me. I know it’s just asking for angry comments from parents who feel personally attacked (not the case, I swear!!). I would never ever judge a parent for their decisions, even if I vehemently disagree, because I know we all have our own unique situations, personalities, priorities and values.

Do you agree with my approach? Disagree completely and think I’m way off base? Let me know what you think!

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