We love our kids, that’s why we hate to see them struggle.
But maybe that’s precisely the wrong way to think about it?
Because we love our kids, we have to let them struggle. We need them to struggle.
In his essay On Providence, Seneca writes in defense of adversity and hardship. Think about the people you admire, he says. What’s so impressive about them? It’s that “whatever happens, [they] take it in good part, and turn it to a good end.”
This is the job of “the good parent,” Seneca continues. “Out of love for the child, [they act] as a trainer, endlessly manufacturing trials for the child.” He compares it to the way teachers and coaches take it easy on the students and athletes who don’t show much promise. But the ones who they’ve identified as having potential? They push them, they make things harder for them, they put them in more difficult situations. He talks about how Spartan fathers demand their children train against the strongest and toughest. He talks about how Cato’s parents exposed their “frail son to the extremes of heat and cold.” He talks about the farmer’s calloused hands, the athlete’s strong legs, the soldier’s broad shoulders—“in each case the part of the body exercised is the strongest. It is by enduring ills that the mind can acquire contempt for enduring them.”
In The Stoic Parent: 10 Commandments For Becoming a Great Parent, we talk about how Theodore Roosevelt would take his family walks and lead his kids through and over all sorts of obstacles. It was a wonderful, fun experience that also taught the same lesson Seneca was talking about: how to toughen yourself up, how to solve problems, how to never get discouraged just because things are hard.
We can’t make the world easy for our kids. But we can prepare them for a world that is not easy. We can let them struggle and be made better for it. We can can manufacture trials and show them what they are made of.
We can make them resilient and strong and worthy of admiration—including self-admiration, the most important kind.