As an American parent swimming in a sea of other American parents, I have come to notice a great strength in our parenting. We are amazing at making sure our kids are comfortable. Super comfortable.
We truck them around in our super comfortable mini-vans that are wired for their entertainment; we make sure they have snacks and are hydrated at all times. We read a myriad of bedtime stories while making sure their pillows and stuffed animals are in order. We look for shoes. We pack lunches. Our shoulders ache and our backs hurt from lugging all of their competition equipment all over Earth behind them. We drop them at the front door (and not a step passed) of school and then promptly pick them up afterward. We orchestrate play dates and summer camps and vacations centered around what their wants are at the moment.
We obsess and worry if they have enough or too much or not enough.
We have become the human version of Amazon Prime. Ask (or in some cases demand), and you shall receive in the fastest, most direct, 2-day or sooner turn-around possible.
And even if you have children that walk around eternally grateful for everything you do, I have to ask myself and the collective American parent whole...
IS COMFORTABLE THE RIGHT WAY TO GO?
There, I said it...you can glare at me from the carpool line. What I see and what I know about how kids learn and the research behind how our brains are wired says that it is actually not the comfortable that helps us...it is the uncomfortable that helps us grow and become better. It's taking a step out of the tricked out comfortable minivan into the uncharted dirt that will fill our children's souls with purpose and motivation.
I believe it was the road less traveled that made all the difference, right? And what I know for sure is the road less traveled in America parenting is letting our kids live in a little discomfort.
What if all those super amazing parent curated snacks, technology, and experiences were hindering instead of helping our kids become amazing people? Giving them all these amazing things doesn't seem to be helping based on statistics. Kids are quickly becoming just as stressed and anxious as their parents. It appears that all the comfortableness is in fact, making us less comfortable in our skin.
It is also leading us to be less connected with each other. When you live by Amazon Prime parenting, you don't allow space for wanting or needing anything including conversation, connection, true emotional support. Those things that make us human. And when you don't leave any space for need or want, and you only experience instant gratification, you have no skills to empathize with others. To have compassion for others means you can put yourself in their shoes, but if you have an insufficient emotional range because you have never been expected to live through disappointment you won't get it.
Studies have shown that the more you have, the less likely you are to give and scientists believe it is because you can't recognize a need in someone else if you never have a need yourself (see article below). Having to figure out how to solve the problem of going from uncomfortable to comfortable makes your brain excited. It makes it work and think and make connections. It requires you to look both within and outside of yourself, and that helps grow those neural connections and social/emotional connections.
Figuring things out keeps your mind active and busy. The brain is good at its job. Its job is figuring things out. If it doesn't need to figure anything out, because there are no needs or because one simple call to a parental unit and everything is solved for it, or distraction from a screen eliminates it, then it starts to find other things to do...like become anxious and worry.
The epidemic of worry, stress, and anxiety in our country is at an all-time high, including our kids. According to the National Institute Of Health's study (below) anxiety, mood disorders, substance abuse, and behavior disorders are all on the rise. Could one reason be that brains are being not given proper exercise to think and problem solve? The body is an incredible vessel. If given what it needs: proper nutrition, exercise, emotional support it is a well-oiled machine. The brain is part of that body, and its regulator is thinking and solving. Take that away, and you start having issues just like you would if you never exercised. Disease, instability, lack of desire, anxiety, and strain on body systems.
My challenge to you is to make your kid's life harder now so that the rest of life is comfortable because your kid will feel secure in handling life.
Make your kiddo problem solve and figure out solutions to their problems without running to the rescue now, so they don't develop anxiety, depression and mental illness later on in life and carry problem-solving skills that will help them navigate life. This will not only benefit your kid but you as well.
The fantastic thing is this will make your life better too! Once your kid gets the hang of it, you won't run to you with every problem. You may sit down and get through a page in a book before you get called to solve something. Which seems like a magical pie in the sky idea now, but with a little dedication to taking a mindful breathing before offering help and solutions and letting our kids figure stuff out on their own, it can be done.
An important point to remember when your child is trying to figure something new out is it is the PROCESS that is important, not the end product.
Many kids and parents are so conditioned to look for the outcome; they forget to acknowledge that the process of finding a solution or solving an issue independently is the actual goal of learning. This is a critical component because when your child solves a problem on his/her own, it may not "look" the way either of you wants or thought it would. This may cause some initial frustration to both or one of you, and it may even be a "fail" in the eyes of the kid or parent because it didn't turn out the way expected. That isn't to say you shouldn't have high expectations for your child; you need to shift what the true goal is in growing independence and problem-solving.
Failing and getting up the nerve to try again or differently makes a brain much stronger than having a parent nudge you out the way to "fix" the way you decided to solve the problem or telling you that you did it "wrong". Rescuing does not equal results when it comes to allowing kids to step into trusting themselves to try new and uncomfortable things. If parent rescue is a pattern in your home, making a parenting plan for space before you respond to child help requests is a good idea. Telling yourself to take a deep breath (or several) before jumping in to respond helps you become more mindful of what you are trying to accomplish.
I will give a couple parent/kid hacks in an upcoming blog with ideas to foster embracing the uncomfortable. Until then...the next time the opportunity arises for a kiddo in your home to step out of the zone of parent comfort...give them the chance to strengthen that brain and give it the exercise it deserves to be happy and healthy.