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Adversity builds character: Allowing our kids to find their own way

I’ve often heard the old adage that life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forward.  There are no truer words.

In our modern day society, we have a tendency to fight our children’s battles.  I won’t lie, I struggle with this too.  Being the outspoken type that I am, I find myself often wanting to step in.  I constantly need to remind myself to hold back and to allow my children to work through their own issues.  Why?  Because if I don’t allow them to figure it out now, how will they know how to do it later, when I’m not around?

Those who have known me for some time know that I grew up an overweight child.  In sixth grade, I weighed pretty close to what I do now, and was 5 inches shorter.   I was a bit of a “rolly polly”.

As painful as it was, I wouldn’t change that experience for the world.

Surprising to hear that, I’m sure.  Who wants to be different and caused to feel different or left out?  It was very hard.  I remember feelings of inadequacy, being unsure of what to say and do, and being uncomfortable in my own skin.  I remember the heartache of feeling never quite good enough.

It was in those most difficult of moments that my character was formed.  I knew I would never treat anyone poorly based on appearance and I would never let anyone in my presence do that either.  At a young age, I was very vocal about equal rights for everyone – black, white, women, men – we were all the same and should be treated as such.

The moral code I grew to live by was determined in those early years.  When the outside world shuns you for whatever reason, you are forced to look within, you become stronger, and you become whole.   When your kid is the last one chosen, remember they are not just being left out, they are learning how to overcome.

My parents raised me in such a way that they instilled solid principles, but they let me lead the way.  And that I did.

As a young child, I remember reciting Martin Luther King, Jr. to some who chose to say ignorant things about people of color in my presence.  I remember picketing the streets with Mondale/Ferraro signs because I was so ecstatic that a woman was running for Vice President.

One story my mother loves to tell is when I was at a pumpkin patch.  There was a little boy who had been giving me a hard time in the hay stack.  My mother was trying to get me to leave and I wouldn’t budge, I was waiting on top of the hay stack and looking down intently.  The little boy finally appeared; I stomped on his fingers, and then turned around and told my Mom I was ready to go.  He had purposely done the same to me, and there was no way I was leaving until he knew exactly what it felt like.

We as parents in the modern age must remember that adversity builds character.  We must let our children find their own way.

It is probably not a coincidence that at the same time parents have stopped allowing children to fight their own battles, the incidence of bullying is on the rise.  Kids don’t know how to stick up for themselves, perhaps because they never had to.

Understanding our purpose and knowing our worth is something that can only be achieved by doing things on our own.  This is true for us adults, and true for our babes as well.

When you really know who you are and what you are about, there is not a soul on this earth that can tell you otherwise.

While nobody wishes for their children to endure pain or adversity, these lessons are the ones that shape young people’s characters.   These are the lessons that our children cannot go without.

So the next time you find yourself wanting to step in to right a wrong that has been done to your child, let your kid try on their own first.  You may just be happily surprised with what you see.

Balloons for Mimi: Helping children grieve

Balloons for Mimi:  Helping children through the grief process

My grandmother, more affectionately known to her great grandkids as Mimi, passed away nearly 4 years ago.  Each year on her birthday, we send balloons up to heaven for her.  Each one has a special wish attached to it.  Each one represents the love we have for her that will never fade.

My daughter, Maya, was 3 years old when Mimi passed, and my son Brayden had just turned 1.  Some say that is too young for kids to remember.  I know, and my kids can tell you, it’s simply not true.  They not only remember their Mimi, but they ask for her frequently, and still cry for her sometimes.

Just a few weeks back, we were playing with a mirror compact that my grandmother had given me.  Maya sat back and started to tear up.  She said,”I miss Mimi.  I miss her so much.”  I reassured her we will see her again in heaven.  Brayden chimed in to say, “But it’s taking a REALLY long time, Mommy!”

I reminded them that in a few weeks, we would be able to send our balloons up to Mimi for her birthday and she would get them in heaven.  They calmed down, and for the moment, it seemed to make it ok.

Mimi lived a full life, a good life.  There were some hardships as we all have, but all in all, she was blessed.   WE were blessed.  Knowing this helped me to move past my grief.  But how do you explain this concept to children?  Their world is black and white.  You’re either here or you’re not.  The shade of grey is lost on them.  But this is one concept they totally understand.

Each year, on Mimi’s birthday, we send balloons up to heaven.  The kids make their wish, they say their prayer and they let them go.  It’s become a beautiful way to remember a lady who meant so much to us, it is fitting and it is beautiful.

What might not be as obvious is that letting go of these balloons in some small way allows us to let go of our grief.  When we release that balloon into the air, we let it go.  We give it up to God.  She belongs to the ages now, and with the wind she shall be.

So if you happen see a balloon flying through the air, just know that what you might actually be seeing is a very special wish on its way to heaven.  And know that there might be two kids who are grieving just a little bit easier because of it.