Today was the first day of school, and as expected, I found myself walking home from school with a flurry of thoughts and feelings in my mind. Was my son going to be okay in a combination class? Was he going to make friends? Was my daughter going to be okay with the new teacher? Would the teacher be nice?
I found my brain going back and forth between the temptation to be anxious, and the desire to believe the comforting thoughts I offered it: Combination classes were usually full of pleasant children, right? He made friends last year, so he would probably be able to find new ones this year, right? And, my daughter had at least one good friend in class. That counted for a whole lot… right?
I do that a lot. I try to look for the silver linings, the bright side, the cup half full. It often helps tie me over in my moments of anxiety until either things pan out just fine, or I have to accept that things are less than ideal and then I deal with it head on. Even then, I try to find perspective, telling myself, “At least…” or “On the bright side…”
But this morning, as I tried to fend off the temptation to worry, I remembered something I had read not too long ago. It was a phrase that was so bewildering and foreign to me at the time that I read and reread it and then proceeded to talk about it with every person I could in the days that followed:
Perfect, that’s perfect–it’s just what he needed to happen at least once in his childhood.
I had read plenty of literature about grit and resilience, and meant to let my kids build grit and resilience in measured, thoughtful, and controlled doses. I know, I know… very Type A, but hey, this is me. Some hardship was good, but not toooo much, if I could help it. No one likes to see their kids suffer, and if there are things you can do to alleviate the disappointment or pain, you’d want to do it, right?
But sometimes life throws a curveball, and even our best laid plans get crumpled and tossed aside. Like how I invested so much energy and time last year into building the relationship my son had with his new best friend… only to learn in June that the friend was moving away. At the time, I only viewed this event with disappointment. Well, that stinks. But after reading about the idea of giving your kids “good suffering,” I was able to look back on it and be grateful he could experience it.
These ideas are from the book How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims, where she says:
Not only must you let your kids experience these things, you must appreciate their importance. Anderson and Johnson argue that parenting well means “learning to see events you might otherwise try to avoid or dread in your child’s life as growth-producing events” that build wisdom and perspective. When they occur, we parents should say silently to ourselves, “Perfect, that’s perfect–it’s just what he needed to happen at least once in his childhood.”
I had borrowed this book from the library, and really enjoyed reading it and chewing on ideas like teaching my kids more life skills, giving them more unsupervised space, and rethinking my approach to colleges and college admissions. But it was chapter 18 that produced immediate change in my approach to parenting. Events that once elicited dismay and dread became events I could tally up as “growth-producing events.” Problems I once tried to foresee and prevent became opportunities to build their resilience and grit muscles for future hardships that they would someday need to be able to weather without me by their side.
If you’re like me and sometimes want to curate your child’s experiences–both the good and the bad–then this might be a really helpful frame to put things in perspective. Sometimes there isn’t a silver lining. Sometimes there is no bright side. Sometimes the cup is empty, and sometimes it just sucks. And in those times, you can take comfort in seeing it as just perfect. It’s something that your child can experience and something that can strengthen them for some bigger, harder thing in the future that you want them to be able to get through.
So if they don’t get invited to that party, experience the death of a pet, get sent to the principal’s office, or miss an event that they had been looking forward to, consider it preparation for adulthood. Oftentimes my mind is so determined to find the good in situations, but it can also be really freeing to acknowledge that sometimes, things are just hard and crappy… and that’s okay. Maybe even perfect.