The day I could have lost my mind, but didn’t
Many of us have heard people spout opinions about how “kids these days” are too coddled. We protect them from failures and defend them from disappointment. In doing so, we don’t allow kids to develop a thick skin (which apparently is desirable).
In order to not coddle our kids, they need to experience the disappointments and hardships of life, so they can develop resilience and learn how to persist in the face of adversity. ‘Survival of the fittest’ and all.
Except this isn’t the bloody hunger games and I’m no Effie Trinket.
I’ll tell you a little story
I’m going to tell you about my day yesterday, a story that doesn’t involve parenting at all, then I promise to explain how it relates to the point I’m making.
It starts out like any typical Saturday morning. I make my way into the city from our rural home to meet with a client and am there for less than two hours. By the time I start to head back, there is a full-on blizzard happening, complete with zero visibility.
Okay, so it might be a bit difficult getting home.
Believe me, I try. I’m not a nervous driver and know all the back roads. I have all wheel drive (AWD) and a stubborn streak, but also a will to live. The back route is snowed in with huge drifts. I decide not to tempt fate and make my way up to the highway.
We live in the prairies where it’s incredibly flat. We also live in the country, so of course, there are a lot of farmers’ fields along the highway. When the weather brings snow and wind, a bad combination, this makes for treacherous driving conditions.
Because this happens a few times every winter, there is a literal gate at a weigh station for transport trucks. If authorities deem the driving too dangerous, they can shut the gate, ensuring no traffic shall pass.
Giving up on the back route, I find myself bumper-to-tailpipe with a long line up of semis. The gate and highway are most definitely closed.
What usually happens in these situations is the highway stays closed for a couple of hours until the storm dies down and crews can sand and plow the roads. Then the gate is re-opened and we are freed.
I check the weather forecast and figure I can kill a couple of hours. I buy myself a coffee and newspaper (I hadn’t purchased a newspaper since College!), and prepare to wait.
So I wait. I sip my coffee and work on the crossword puzzle, and I wait.
Two hours pass.The storm is getting stronger, and my bladder is getting fuller (shouldn’t have had that coffee). Thankfully I know a kind friend who lives nearby, so I contact her and stop by for a visit. Another hour passes, and it looks like things might open up soon, so I return to waiting in line.
I wait. Then I wait some more.
It’s now been 5 hours and all I’ve had since breakfast is coffee. Fortunately my place in line is right in front of a Subway sandwich shop (yes, right there on the highway, perfect for truckers stopping in for a bite before hitting the road).
Unfortunately for me, I have Celiac disease, which means I can’t eat gluten. I don’t usually trust fast food, but beggars can’t be choosers, so I cross my fingers they’ll have gluten-free bread available today.
No such luck. Dammit.
The nearest safe place for me to eat is about 10 minutes away — under good driving conditions — and in the opposite direction.
I pull a U-turn and head back into the city because I know I’ll be headed for a meltdown if I let my blood sugar get low on top of everything else. Actually, considering everything, I’m keeping myself surprisingly calm and collected.
I’m certainly not known for being patient or unflappable, but I am good under pressure.
No room at the inn
As I’m waiting for my food, I start looking up hotels on my phone. It’s getting dark and there is no sign of this storm letting up, nor the highway being opened, anytime soon.
It turns out a lot of other stranded motorists had this same thought because every single hotel in the area is completely full.
I need time to figure out a plan.
I go to the nearby retail giant to buy clean socks and underwear and a few books to read in case I am stranded. I stop by the liquor mart too, because essentials. I call a few nearby hotels and confirm they are indeed all booked up.
I decide I’ll check out the back route once more. If that doesn’t work, I’ll have to hit up my friend for a couch to crash on, or head further into the city to find somewhere with vacancy.
Thankfully visibility actually is better now that it’s dark out. The wind has slowed slightly, and at least now we can see each others’ headlights and taillights. I am very fortunate to happen upon a line of cars all going through at the same time, this way we can help each other out if someone gets into trouble.
Nearly seven hours after my initial attempt, I finally make it home safely.
And proceed to get stuck.
In my own f@ck!#*! driveway.
What does this have to do with kids?
In a past life (okay, maybe even a couple of years ago), I might have had a complete meltdown when I found out I couldn’t get home right away. Or when the sandwich shop was out of gluten-free bread. Or when there were no hotel rooms available in the area.
I admit to having some minor thoughts of violence toward drivers who hadn’t turned their bloody headlights on (we’re in the middle of a flippin' blizzard, idiots!), but my rage was contained inside my vehicle and I didn’t even flip anyone off. I consider that a major victory.
My reaction when I get stuck in my driveway? I laugh my ass off. After spending seven hours in a blizzard and finally making it home, I wind up in a snow drift at my own damn house. Whatever, that’s a problem for future me. I still have the wine and books I bought, so I’m set.
Returning to my original point: what makes me resilient and not lose my ever-loving-mind in the middle of a blizzard, with no way to get home, and nowhere to stay for the night?
Is it the fact that I’ve experienced a lot of adversity growing up, and well into young adulthood?
Remember how I said, up until about two years ago, I really would have flipped out? I was not exaggerating. One of those setbacks would have been the last straw for sure.
So what’s changed? Have I learned how to pull up my socks and not expect anyone to rescue me?
Quite the opposite, in fact. It was the knowledge that no one would rescue me, and the build up of repeated “tough love” lessons that wore me down and left me with a very short fuse.
It is the fact that my life is decidedly much less stressful now than it used to be that has extended my previously-short fuse. I finally understand my neurology. I have a husband who is supportive, caring, and a fantastic father to our son. Our son is amazing and we love him like crazy.
These things fill me up. Feeling supported, loved, and less stressed creates more room for tolerance.
Plenty of research supports this, both for adults and children, yet many continue to accuse parents of being too “soft” on their kids today. We’re helicopter parents and snowflakes, too afraid to put our foot down or put our kid in their place (where is this place we’re supposed to be storing our children, anyway?).
Even if you don’t have a moral qualm with bullying and intimidating children — which, you should — one can make a scientific case for being less of a jerk to them. Because being jerks to kids teaches them how to be jerks. Conversely, being kind to our children teaches them just that.
“By the way they treat children, many traditionally minded parents are also setting an example of disrespectful behaviour for them — and are likely to be outraged if the children proceed to imitate what they’ve seen.” — Alfie Kohn
It’s not that simple, yet it is that simple.
Fill their buckets
When children face constant adversity, they don’t build tolerance, they build insecurity. When children are under continuous stress, this breaks them down, it does not “toughen them up”.
I’m certainly not saying we should bubblewrap our kids and never let them out of our sight — not in the least. I’m a huge proponent of fostering autonomy and encouraging independence.
What I am saying is that life will throw them enough twists and turns (or blizzards), we don’t need to be another source of anxiety for them.
We need to create a safe place for our children to return after a hard day, where they can share their fears without being told to suck it up. A place they feel fully accepted and supported, so they can go out into the storm and come back alright.
That way our kids are less likely to have a temper tantrum in the sandwich shop or flip off their fellow drivers in the middle of a blizzard.
Either way, I can’t promise they won’t get stuck in the g-d driveway (is it Spring yet?).
© Jillian Enright, Neurodiversity MB
Bülbül, A. E., & Arslan, C. (2017). Investigation of Patience Tendency Levels in Terms of Self-determination, Self-compassion and Personality Features. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 5(9), 1632–1645. https://doi.org/10.13189/ujer.2017.050921
Burke, H. N. (2018). The deepest well: Healing the long-term effects of childhood adversity.
Kohn, A. (2005). Unconditional Parenting: Moving from rewards and punishments to love and reason. Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Kohn, A. (2016). The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Coddled kids, helicopter parents, and other phony crises. Beacon Press.