Thursday, February 17, 2011

Raising Accountable and Resilient Children

The ancient Romans had a tradition: whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: he stood under the arch.- Michael Armstrong

I remember my father, after I screwed up royally, having a long talk with me about being an accountable human being. At the time, I kept my eyes to the floor, and prayed it would be a short chat, so I could retreat back to my adolescent angst. But it was not a short conversation. It was a long conversation, as were many with my father. Dad just seemed to take the long way around when he made a point, and I miss those deep as the ocean chats with my father. He was wise beyond his years, and he continues to teach me every day, even though he has long since passed.

One of the things that he told me that day was I needed to take responsibility for the life I was creating for myself. People could help, people could hinder, but the bottom line was your life was what YOU made it. So, if times were tough, it was you who could choose to bounce or stay down. I tried to listen, but to be honest, that lesson took a long time to stick for me. I've blamed more people and circumstances for some of my life experiences than I care to admit. It is only in the last two years that I feel I finally understand what it means to take accountability for your life, the good and bad.

Years after that conversation with my father, I was reading Jack Canfield's book Success Principles, and that long ago lesson was confirmed. The first success principle for life? Take 100% responsibility for your life. Period. No excuses. Whatever is happening is your responsibility, to either build on or change. It is up to you. Why do I bring this up? Because I feel we need to refocus our efforts on building accountable and resilient children.

Helicopter parents, it is time for you to land. It is time for us to take a long hard look at how we are raising our children and ask ourselves one important question.

Are we really helping them?

I understand that life is complex these days. But with all of our advancements in society, do you think we are doing right by our children? Don't you think some old fashioned parenting is what is missing in this world? You do the school project because she gets frustrated. You make an immediate appointment for a meeting with the teacher at the first sign of anything less than perfection to address this issue ( with the teacher, not your kid), you are all smiles and nods when signing the beginning of season information about your child's team, and in complete agreement on how the team will be worked, and how issues will be addressed. But when it is your kid who is being disciplined, what happens? Do you guide your child to an understanding of how to deal with it, and prevent issues in the future, or do you confront the coach and get all "up in his business?"

People, life is simple. Focus on the love and not the fear. Teach your kids the same. Be accountable for what you do and say. Give back and share the best parts of yourself with others. Smile. Leave the world in a better state than when you arrived.

We need to guide our children to find their own respectful voice, and learn how to deal with difficulty, accepting their part in it, and bouncing back from it wiser and stronger. In the big picture, how are we raising resilient and accountable human beings if we send the message that the rules apply to everyone else, but them?

I'm not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. But here's some tips I've found to work in raising a resilient and accountable child to be a resilient and accountable adult:
  • Be accountable yourself. Stand up and take responsibility. Your children are watching you and how you conduct yourself. Stop the blame and shame game and present a shining example. Show your children that with accountability for your circumstances, you can have the life of your dreams.
  • Don't be a helicopter parent. For God's sake, stop hovering, land the aircraft, and see what your child can do for themselves when you aren't in their airspace. Let them spread their wings a little because that is the only way they will learn to fly.
  • Talk to them about what they will learn and take from the hard times. Yes, I know that the gut instinct is to fix things when they go wrong for your baby. After all, you love them right? I know you want to march up to that teacher, coach, bully and make this go away. In some cases, it is necessary. In some cases, it is easier to do it yourself. But what about an alternative? What about taking the time to teach them how to navigate those situations independently? What about guiding them, and then standing back to watch them deal with difficulty successfully? Think of your child's smiling face as he or she tells you how "they took care of it" themselves.

I want you to ponder something. When we do and do and do for our children, what is our motivation? Are we trying to protect them from the difficulties happening in their lives, or are we working to prevent them from experiencing things like we endured in our own lives? Are we trying to take away the pain we felt all those years ago?

Here's the hard fact. With every experience that we shield from our children, there is a chance we are preventing them from gaining knowledge and perspective that will allow them to build resilience, to become accountable for their own happiness? By taking away the exposure to real life issues, are we not also taking away their chance to learn?

I know. I get it. You want to protect your child. But maybe we can all exhale a little and realize that we can still be supportive, protective and loving parents without raising children that feel they are the exception to the rules of the world. Maybe we can gently guide them to take responsibility for their individual successes, failures and happiness. Because one day, they will be.

We all need the chance to figure some of this stuff out on our own. It's what makes us who we are. Give our children the chance to rise to the occasion. Because when they are grown, and you are not within hovering distance, they will thank you for giving them the tools to live a successful and happy life.

Stepping away from the soapbox,


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