August 18, 2022

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.

10 responses to ““Perfect, that’s perfect–“”

  1. Brian says:

    Wow I’m so glad you’re back to blogging again! 😊 Thanks for sharing your perspective on this, it is so tempting as a parent to want to curate all the good and bad experiences our kids have, especially forcing silver lining explanations. Hope your kids have a growth-producingly eventful year! 🌱

    • joellen says:

      Thanks, Brian!! And thanks for the well wishes hahah… (I think? Unless if growth-producing events implies much hardship… in which case… I hope my kids only grow as much as is really needed =P haha)

  2. Christi Ellis says:

    You continue to amaze me JoEllen! Brilliant. Just brilliant.

  3. javier says:

    Gracias por publicar.
    Lo que más cuesta como padre,son las experiencias dolorosas de los hijos.
    Buen artículo,aunque me ostará ponerlo en práctica.
    Un saludo cordial

    • joellen says:

      Hola! Thank you for taking the time to post and share your thoughts <3. I totally feel you. Watching your child go through hardship is SO hard for the parent. My mom used to tell me she always wished she could just take our suffering so we wouldn't have to endure it, and I never really understood or believed her... but now I do. I once read a quote that having a child is like having your heart walk around outside of your body, and it all makes sense now. <3.

  4. Diana says:

    Love this! Even as a grandparent, I want to make everything perfect for my grandchildren. This reminded me that the hard times are important too. Thank you so much!

    • joellen says:

      It is tempting, especially when their worlds are small enough that we really can manage/control most of the variables that affect their daily lives!! But someday that won’t be the case, so it takes so much intentional effort to let things happen and trust it will build them up for the future <3. You're a fantastic grandparent!!

  5. Brian says:

    Oh yeah I’m rereading my comment and it is super awkward almost like wishing ill on them 😅 🤦‍♂️ thanks for translating what I meant, which is, that I hope for rich life experiences, and just enough hardship to grow character but not too much 😊

    • joellen says:

      Hahaha no of course I totally knew what you meant 🙂 Just messing with you. Thank you for your hopes for good for them =) And I hope the same for you and your kiddos!