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September 1, 2015

Why Kids Need to Struggle

Blue Morpho Butterfly

My heart is hurting today. Does your mama heart or daddy heart ever hurt when you see your kid suffer or struggle? That’s what’s going on for me. You see, one of my kids has been on the receiving end of some unfair treatment, not getting something he deserves. Injustice strikes a nerve in me.  And then today, he got some medical news that was most unwelcome. It felt like a sucker punch after several weeks of dealing with the unjust situation.

I admit it was hard to be the strong one today. I kinda crumbled. He asked if I was alright and I said I was but that it just hurt to see him hurt.

I never knew how painful this parenting thing could be. I never knew that my heart could break watching my children struggle. I didn’t know that I’d want to rise up and do EVERYTHING IN MY POWER TO MAKE IT ALL BETTER. I didn’t know I could love someone so much that I’d literally be asking God to give ME their pain.

This parenting thing is HARD. And here’s the harder truth that I’m learning. Suffering is good for them. Struggle is necessary.

For several months, I’ve been contemplating an analogy from nature—the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. To become a butterfly, a caterpillar must first become a chrysalis. Maybe you’ve seen a chrysalis (or pupa) hanging from a leaf. In school, we had a chrysalis in our classroom and we’d check each day to see if the butterfly had appeared. The wait was filled with great anticipation. What would it look like? Would it be a beautiful Monarch butterfly or an ordinary moth?


Even though the chrysalis stage is considered a resting stage, major transformations are taking place beneath the covering. And once that transformation is complete, the butterfly begins to emerge. It’s exciting to see the chrysalis fall away and true beauty revealed.

There’s one small catch. In the process of emerging, a butterfly must not be helped. For its wings to develop, it needs the struggle of breaking out of the chrysalis. And then it must—on its own—pump its  wings so that blood will enter them and enable them to work. If a butterfly is “helped,” it will actually die because its wings will not be strong.

I know I don’t need to elaborate. You get it, but let me say it anyway (at least as a reminder to myself). Our kids must struggle in order to grow, to build character. It’s only in the struggle that traits like perseverance, compassion, gumption, and endurance can emerge. If I give in and try to stop the struggle (maybe even—if I’m honest—because it hurts ME too much to watch!), then I’m only hurting my child, not helping him. He needs that struggle. I want him to be resilient, right? I want him to have compassion for others who are hurting, don’t I?

On an intellectual level, I understand that truth all day long, but on a mama level I WANT TO HURT SOMEBODY. It’s just so stinkin’ hard to sit by.

Now one itty bitty disclaimer because I can almost hear you objecting…YES, there are times when we intervene, when we stand up to injustice, and when we stop the pain. Yes, there are times when our kids shouldn’t needlessly suffer. We’re not sadists!

The fact remains, however, that we can’t shield our children from every bad and painful thing this world throws at them. And we shouldn’t. Let’s be parents who walk WITH our children THROUGH the tough spots rather than trying to avoid them altogether.

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