Why letting your kids struggle is good parenting

The opposite of good parenting is doing the easy thing in the short term.

Now don’t get me wrong. There’s a certain parenting high when we just “let kids be kids,” stay up late, go for the sugary cereal, and wear pajamas all Saturday. I love all the ways we can have fun and build the family team in the here and now.

But in this blog I’m talking about something more. I’m talking about how it’s easy to let the in-the-moment mentality seep into the more significant spheres of parenting.

Like shielding our kids from struggle.

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After all, we want them to smile and be happy. We want them to “like us” with hugs and compliments about how we’re God’s gift to parenting. Right?

If so, maybe it makes sense to erect Fort Knox around their precious little hearts so we can control their experience with the world around them.

As a result of our own insecurities—or even our own lack of clarity about what we’re supposed to be doing as parents—we “protect” them from difficult experiences.

But I want to question that. And here’s why. Overprotecting your kids from struggle is under-preparing them for the real world.

Not only am I a parent myself, but I talk to a lot of people and try to read a lot. One of the benefits is that I get to learn from the well-worn paths of others. For me, something that keeps coming up which contributes to the character of strong, wise, faithful, thoughtful people is this:

Struggle.

It seems counter-intuitive, but consider this. When did you experience the greatest personal growth in your life? Was it when there was smooth-sailing? Or when the answers were 100% clear?

I’m guessing no.

It was when you had to deal with difficult circumstances and stretched yourself. Struggle is soul fertilizer.

So why do we do their chores for them, go soft on consequences, jump in a little too quickly to sort out school yard controversies, and shield them from things like funerals? These are often experiences that help make them strong, wise, faithful, and thoughtful people.

Here are a few things you and I can do to keep our brains in the game:

1. Let them learn from mistakes

Let’s face it. Kids do some hair-brained things. If your child wrecks the neighbour’s garden, they need to go over there, apologize, and fix it.

When it comes down to it, hardships are tuition payments in the education of your soul.

2. Don’t provide immediate answers

As parents, we want to relieve our child’s pain, including mental pain. For example, maybe they want to know how to deal with a mean kid at school, or figure out what to do at a party when some classmates start doing something illegal.

Sure, we could drop the hammer on what we would do—but depending on your child’s age and circumstances, that’s not always what they’re asking for. And it’s not always helpful.

Sometimes our kids just want to think it through with someone they trust—not so that you can always give them the clear answer, but so that they can feel your unconditional love and support as they figure it out for themselves.

3. Make them a part of the family team

I strongly believe that kids won’t cope well out in the community if they can’t cope well with their own community at home. This means learning the critical life lesson that it’s not all about them. This involves communicating with respect, sharing, and cheering each other on.

It also means assigning regular chores because nobody gets a free ride and everybody benefits from a strong team work ethic.

4. Let them see you struggle too

Author James Baldwin said something I love: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

And although I hope my kids don’t imitate the struggles I have (!), I hope they imitate the real ways I try to understand and wrestle with them in a healthy way. I want them to see me praying about problems, talking about them, and trying to do the right thing even when I’d prefer do the easy thing.

In their book Sticky Faith, Kara Powell and Chap Clark write, “The greatest gift you can give your child is to let them see you struggle and wrestle with how to live a lifetime of trust in God.”

Let me end with this. I’m not saying that I like it when our kids struggle or that we should go out of our way to make problems for them. Also, I should note that there are times when something serious happens, or when there is a legitimate threat to our children’s immediate well-being. That’s a different situation. Mama and Papa bears have certain legitimated duties! Sometimes we need to step in.

But we also need to know when to step back.

Because overprotecting our kids from struggle is under-preparing them for the real world.

So what is good parenting?

I think it’s making daily parenting choices that will help the ones we love be strong, wise, faithful, and thoughtful people of integrity who will bless the world.


I write a daily 1-minute devo called “Up!” – You can check it out or sign-up here: www.TheUpDevo.com

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About Matthew Ruttan

Matthew Ruttan is a simplifier, disciple, husband, dad, singer, blogger and pastor at Westminster in Barrie, Ont. “A pulse doesn’t mean we’re alive.” Receive his daily email devotional here One day he hopes to own a rowboat. Subscribe to this blog.