Eighteen years ago, expecting our first, I remember saying that I intended to have a different learning activity ready at home for every day of my child’s youngest years.
That was the first of countless parenting notions that didn’t go at all as planned.
It’s easy to laugh at some of what my husband and I thought before the reality of parenting hit. Many assumptions were thoroughly throttled when it became clear our boys were their own individuals, with their own minds (funny we didn’t assume they’d get that from us!).
What isn’t funny is the worry that comes with parenting these days. Media and much of society suggests that there’s plenty to worry about; the threat of future unemployment, mixing with the wrong crowd, bullying, drugs, excessive online gaming, online predators, ‘failure-to-launch’ from home and more lurk in the dark edges of our minds. These potential threats are alarming, to be sure. They are worthy of our watchful eye, and intervention when needed. But Alex Russell, clinical psychologist and author of Drop the Worry Ball: How to Parent in the Age of Entitlement, suggests that the more alarming and widespread problem is how many of us are responding to the threats.
Drop the Worry Ball is an account of how our generation of parents has saved our children from failure, to the unhealthy end that they’re unable to deal with failure on their own. Our well-intended efforts to ensure their lives unfold as desired have left them ill-prepared to face the obstacles, the “non-catastrophic failures”, inherent in a life fully-lived. Be resilient is one of our KCS Habits because it’s an attribute that’s both a necessary yet under-appreciated part of success. Where children used to learn resilience, today they’re experiencing crippling anxiety or engaging in avoidance behaviours (endless gaming being one example) to alarming degrees. Many feel entitled to getting their way, and have become deft at manipulating parents to make it so. Messing up and not getting what we want is unpleasant, sometimes deeply so. That being said, they’re a powerful way, and arguably the only way, to learn how to pick oneself up, learn from mistakes, and face life undaunted. They’re a whole lot better than a life unlived.
I don’t know if my parents worried as much as I worry about my boys. I do know they let me face life with a great deal of freedom, and my fair share of non-catastrophic failures. They kept their worry in check so that I might become the adult I am today. If my husband and I can keep Russell’s message in mind, our boys will also become self-reliant adults, as my husband and I assumed they would be.
It just may not unfold as planned.
Alex Russell is speaking at KCS Monday, April 14th at 7 p.m. All are welcome and admission is free. His book Drop the Worry Ball will be available for sale at the event.
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.