To say that parenting is a crazy mix of emotional mountains and valleys is an understatement. There is nothing better than celebrating with your child in the good times, and nothing worse than grieving with your child in the bad. When I think of tough times and raising our sons, I boil it down to two categories: general and personal. As to the general, these are the challenges that face most all children in this modern age: peer pressure, unrealistic standards set by Hollywood or the media, and somehow building healthy relationships in a society that often offers very unhealthy environments. Then, there is what I feel is the personal: challenging or heartbreaking trials that are specific or unique to our individual children.
How to we help them through the hard things we see facing all of our children in the 21st Century? School shootings, racial divisiveness, political unrest? As trite as it may seem, we need to take the time to really communicate. We make ourselves as parents available, approachable, and unflappable. We talk about the news, and we talk about digging deep for facts. We encourage them to not just have the boldness to speak their own minds, but to also respectfully listen to what is on the minds of others. Make dinner conversations around these things, though not just dwelling on the daunting problems, but also focusing on how we can be a part of the solutions. As important as a good education is, such as having strong grasp of the subjects taught in school, life problem solving skills are perhaps even more vital to the development of our children. Of course, one night of lively debate over a tater tot casserole will not solve all of the tough problems in this world, but it will help your child become more aware of what is going on around them and how they are an integral part of not only the universe they live in, but perhaps a piece in the puzzle that could make it a “less tough” place to inhabit.
As challenging and scary as it can be to face world problems, the personal giants that shadow our children often can prove even more frightening. Unexpected medical or developmental diagnoses, being bullied by peers, family moves, and death of a cherished pet or relative, are some of the things that can make up very tough times for our individual children, as well as their parents. These are the heavy times that a talk around the table alone will not greatly lighten. It took all of the strength and self-control my wife and I could muster when our boys faced specific, personal challenges. It was hard for us not to want to be angry at what appeared to be an unfair circumstance, an overbearing coach, an inflexible teacher, or a three-foot-tall bully in pigtails. But, part of helping guide our children through these inevitable experiences was remembering that we were the grown-ups. And as grown-ups, and in order to see our young become successful, happy, productive grown-ups themselves, helping them learn how to go through – and grow through – these tough times was the best thing we could do for them.
I feel like a broken record when I say this, but modeling for our children is so important. They are watching us, and watching us not just in the good times, but in the tough times. Quite possibly, even more so in the tough times. How do they see us deal with frustration at work? How do they see us handle the death of a dear loved one? How do they see us stand by our convictions while allowing for others to freely stand by their own? Talking, guiding, modeling, and in our house, a whole lot of praying, were some of the tools we used in trying to be good parents for our kids in those tough times.