Doing Hard Things

Doing the hard thing is just ... plain ... hard. My dear friend Carol Kuykendall shows us how.


Doing Hard Things

By Carol Kuykendall

I was born with the wrong wiring for being an effective parent.

I make that bold statement while looking back on raising three children who are doing just fine now as adults in the world, in spite of me. I know I'm my own worst critic, but I remember how I had to struggle in those parenting years to ignore the permission-giving advice I often heard or read: "When in doubt, use your instincts."

That was not good advice for me. I'm a two on the Enneagram. A Helper. An off-the-charts feeling person on the Myers-Briggs. My natural instinct is to fix problems. Control everything I can. Keep everyone happy at almost all costs. Turn frowns upside down with cookies if that's what it takes. Cave in, if necessary.

That's just wrong, I know, which means I had to fight my instincts all the way through my active parenting days. And if I know anything these days, I know that over-parenting doesn't turn out well for kids. College counselors are now telling us about the serious problem of declining resilience in students on their campuses. Young people are leaving home without the coping skills to deal with the disappointment, discomfort and conflict they face in college, in jobs, and in life.

Why? Because at home, their helicopter mothers over-rescued them, and snowplow parents pushed aside their obstacles which prevented them from learning to manage the everyday bumps in the road of life.

The message? We need to let our kids learn to do hard things. Which comes from doing hard things.

Actually, that's not just a parenting mantra. Whether we have kids or not, choosing to do hard things helps all of us grow our grit and be more resilient. It means doing things we don't want to do, like giving up that unhealthy snack that once we start eating, we can't stop. Or apologizing to someone for a painful misunderstanding. Or taking on a challenge that stretches us outside our comfort zone, like accepting a leadership role or agreeing to speak up front at church.

Creating scenarios that allowed our kids to do hard things didn't come naturally to me. I struggled to say "no" when a child called from school, begging me to bring her forgotten homework to her (again). Or telling her to talk to the teacher herself about a problem rather than expect mom to voice her excuse. Letting a child endure hard things in order to become resilient can be a challenge.

I remember one of my most difficult experiences. Our son Derek was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age nine. For the first time, we faced a life-threatening problem with no prescription for a cure. To survive, he needed to take several insulin shots a day along with multiple finger prick blood tests and follow a strict diet. I couldn't fix this problem and I quickly recognized my instinct to become overprotective. A few months later, his doctor encouraged us to send Derek to a week-long diabetic camp to gain confidence in his ability to take care of himself. I knew that was a good idea, but Derek had never been away from home for a week; he didn't know anybody and he didn't want to go, which made the right choice painfully difficult.

Watching him agonize over the anticipation made me want to change the choice.

"Why are you making me go?" he asked tearfully as we packed his clothes the night before. Even though we'd talked about it several times, I tried to help him understand again.

We hugged him goodbye, that Sunday afternoon outside a rustic camp cabin. "We'll pick you up Saturday morning at 9," I promised.

"Please don't be late," he pleaded as we turned to go.

I had to will my feet to walk back to the car, hoping he hadn't seen my tears.

During that long week, we received only a single postcard. "I don't like it much here," Derek wrote. "I miss you." But on Saturday at precisely 9 a.m., we picked up a child who in the future would never let diabetes be the reason not to do something, like go on a trip with his jump roping team, run a six-mile race, or choose to go to college in another state.

He learned to do hard things at camp that week. And I did too. It's a memory that still encourages me to be a Helper by letting others do hard things.

Carol Kuykendall writes and speaks about all things family: mothering, growing up, getting along, letting go, reshaping. Carol has recently updated and revised Give Them Wings: Preparing for the Time Your Teen Leaves Home. She is the author or coauthor of nine books and also is a regular contributor to Guideposts. Carol knows the power of stories to shape and connect us. She has taught storytelling and helped launch a storytelling ministry. She lives with her husband, Lynn, in Colorado. Connect at or on Facebook @carolkuykendallauthor or Instagram @carolkuykendall.

© Elisa Morgan 2020

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