It’s been a busy time. Here is the latest Mom column, that ran in the Alameda Sun on Thursday, April 23, 2009. Here is the link (in case you’d rather read it on the site). As usual, I welcome any and all comments.
Make It Harder
Just the other day in the car, I caught the end of a broadcast of City Arts & Lectures on KQED. Somebody was interviewing Malcolm Gladwell, the best-selling author of such books as Blink and Tipping Point. In his latest book, Outliers: The Story of Success, he explores how luck, skill and hard work affect your chances at success.
I didn’t hear the entire interview, and, unfortunately, there is no podcast or MP3 version of the discussion online, so I can’t listen to it again to get direct quotes. We will have to actually listen to NPR to hear the interview again.
Gladwell was taking questions from the audience and during this time he actually had an “a-ha!” moment. He was talking about how 30% of all entrepreneurs had been diagnosed with serious learning disabilities at some point in their lives. He pursued this statistic to say that it was because of their desire and willingness to work hard to overcome their challenges that these people succeed in business (and life). He gave several examples of this situation and noted that these people have learned the right skills (delegation, oral communication, etc.) to get ahead. (On the flip side, the same percentage of people diagnosed with learning disabilities end up in jail, but let’s stick to the positive here.)
Gladwell went on to say that maybe if we make it difficult for our kids, purposefully give them some hardship to overcome and work through, it would be the best education we, as parents, could provide. To paraphrase, he said that maybe our country’s educational approach should shift from trying to provide as much as possible to our students, to taking opportunities away from kids in order to help them become successful.
His comment made the audience laugh, but he challenged them to stop laughing and actually take in the astounding thought. By not providing more to your children, actually giving them less and making life harder, you might help them grow into successful adults.
It became my own “a-ha!” moment and offered a sense of relief for always feeling that somehow I am a bad parent. I think it’s natural that parents want to make their children’s lives better than their own. We want to give them opportunities we never had, eliminate the struggles and hardships. Some people actually call it progress. Think of the parents who survived The Great Depression. They did not want their kids to endure the same hardships. At the same time, great things happen because—just as Gladwell noted—people pushed and worked through hard times, resolving in Scarlett O’Hara fashion that “This will never happen again!”
In my case, I have carried some strong guilt about the divorce and the effect it has had on my daughters. It was at that moment in the car, I shared the epiphany with Gladwell. Maybe having to deal with their parents’ divorce offers my daughters a hardship that will help them develop skills left dormant if they lived with married parents. With any luck, it will be organizational skills culled by living in two separate homes. But, based on the state of their bedrooms and the constant driving back and forth from house to house picking up forgotten items, that hasn’t manifested yet. Or, perhaps they will develop exceptional people skills refined by having to negotiate terms at each location.
It’s a long list of possibilities and the thoughts made my day brighter, but it’s clear I haven’t figured all of it out yet. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy the rest of their childhoods and keep watch, acknowledging a step forward when they overcome obstacles on their own.