We All Fall Down: A Lesson in Resiliency

Imagine this: as you walk to class on your first day of school, your dad shouts, "Have a great day!" Your mother whispers, "That's too much pressure." So he says instead, "Have the day you're going to have."

That is precisely what happens in the film, The Odd Life of Timothy Greene. Granted, this is fiction but hearing that changed my life.

In this world of uber-optimism and over-achievement, the thought of having a day that is other than "fabulous" is practically un-American.

Each person has a different vision of what a great day looks like. For some, it is a day of golf. For others, it starts with a good cup of coffee.

But what happens when we don't have a good day? How do we treat ourselves, and the people around us, if things don't go the way we had hoped or planned?

The ability to pick ourselves up after a fall is what many people do naturally. Yet, this is precisely what is becoming a critical deficit in school children, young adults entering the workforce -- and parents.

Barb King, a private school counselor, calls this "resiliency."

In her twenty year track record, Ms. King witnessed the dawn of the helicopter parent which brought with it a competitiveness that was more about parents than the children.

As a former educator, I noticed once parents became overly involved, the stakes were driven much higher. There was no room for kids to be kids. Competition crossed over from normal competitive arenas, like sports, and into the mundane. "Have a nice day" became "Have a great day," and when a child didn't have a great day, parents took it as a reflection of their own personal inadequacies.

From parents doing homework for their children to making sure their kids get leads in plays, parental interference has been more about building a child's CV than giving children a childhood. With all this interference, it begs the question, "Who is less able to handle disappointment: children or parents?"

When there is danger, interference is instinctual. Getting a C on a test or not getting a lead in a school play is not life-threatening. Sure, everyone likes seeing their child do well. Feeling proud of our children is very different from using their accomplishments for self-aggrandizement.

If anything, not getting what we want is an invitation to re-evaluate and bolster commitment. After some reflection, we can rally and take action again. Thanks to a t-shirt she saw, Ms. King likes to say, "Hard work trumps talent when talent doesn't work hard."

Giving children responsibilities fosters both individuation and belonging. Kids like knowing they, and their contributions, matter. Ms. King advises, "By handing them age appropriate responsibilities, you are telling your kids, "I believe in you. I believe you can handle this task."

With obstacles, we discover solutions, become stronger and oddly enough, our lives become uniquely our own.

Ms. King observes, "When kids realize they have a choice, they become more invested. I believe in helping kids help themselves. It is our role to decrease the tendency towards dependency."

Whether we like it or not, our role as parents is to render our jobs obsolete. Successful parenting leads to adults who no longer need their parents. Love them, yes. Need them, no.

This does not mean we don't help each other. Compassion and cooperation are essential.

When parents support growth, children learn the cycles of working, failure and success. It is only through experience that we learn to discern the differences and respond accordingly.

"The really awesome kid is the one who can be humble with his own successes and celebrate the successes of others," says Ms. King. I dare say, this is also the sign of a really awesome adult.

Like in Odd Life, we are going to make mistakes. We can use what we learn to rally ourselves and do better -- or "make better mistakes." Honestly, I do not want my child, or any child, to be hurt or disappointed yet I know by allowing them to experience disappointments, we welcome them into the human fold.

Falling down is a part of life but so is getting back up. Sometimes it takes awhile. We can aim for a life that is wholly on our terms but everyone alive today knows we cannot control everything that happens. Accepting a day for what it is, and knowing where we have a choice and actually making one... this is grace. And this is resilience.