Learning to Do the Hard Things

Alex and me standing side by side in PhillyWe are a family who values independence. My daughter jokes about how she and her brother were expected to pack their own lunches in fourth grade. It’s true, though. While I made sure the shelves were filled with things they could easily make, they were responsible for their own lunches.

My husband and I wanted to make sure our children knew how to take care of themselves. We taught them how to do laundry, cook, and clean. We gave them allowances early on from which they learned to budget for extras like entertainment.

By doing this, we showed confidence in our kids’ ability to take care of themselves—not only for the basics like cooking and cleaning, but also for things like choosing friends and problem-solving. Practicing their learned independence as young adults, they each graduated from colleges far from home and are now finding their way to new adventures.

This all sounds great if it could end here.

However, in our focus on independence, we missed a critical skill.

There’s going to come a time in every child’s life where they’re going to have to live through some kind of life-changing event. You know, the kind of event where life forevermore becomes a before and after.

For us, it was my daughter’s car accident. We came so very close to losing her on July 23, 2015, when she was a passenger in a car that was t-boned by an F250 truck. She now refers to timelines in her life as before and after the accident because she was forever changed. If you’re interested, you can read more about this story in my post, My Comeback Girl and Her Heroes.

Life’s biggest lessons often come from the hardest times. One of the biggest lessons I learned during Alex’s very long recovery is the need to teach children interdependence.

In our focus on independence, it seems we sent some mixed messages about how there are times when it’s perfectly okay to ask for help. In fact, it’s one of the most courageous things we can do.

In hindsight, there have been times in my life when I judged people for needing help. I know how bad that sounds, but it’s true. In valuing independence, I judged those who were able to ask for what they need.

Luckily, by the time Alex had her accident I had begun my journey with learning to ask for help. Although they were baby steps, that initial practice helped us navigate months of depending on friends and family for nearly everything.

Though uncomfortable and frustrating, we both had to lean into the discomfort of needing community in order for her to make it back to independence. It’s a humbling but powerful lesson. Brené Brown says, “You cannot judge yourself for needing help.”

Learning when and how to ask for help is a critical skill to teach children, especially as they work through the hard things. They will have to lean on community in order to make it through life in a strong, confident way. We all do.

I’m happy to report my girl and I are now more comfortable with asking for help. And the biggest gift of all is that we’re also able to give help without judgment. It’s a start.

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