Back when we started talking openly about wrapping up our young children’s time in the school system – a time, for one of them, that was extremely difficult – we started hearing a theme in some of the comments people had for us. Distilled down, the message was:
You’re being too sensitive to your children’s discomfort. It’s good for them, it’s good for you. You should all harden up and push through. Resilience is the light at the end of the tunnel.
For a long time we felt embarrassed by our sensitivity. We knew it was just who we were, but when others put a spotlight on it we started feeling like it was a character flaw. Like we were transferring that flaw onto our children by trying to protect them from emotional strain. Like they were missing out on an important developmental stage by not learning to wipe away their tears, put their heads down, and push through whatever was causing them pain.
The thing is, I’m absolutely a firm believer in helping our children grow resilience. In helping them work through hard things, in accepting when something doesn’t go their way, in not sweating the small stuff. I also believe resilience is best developed by learning that failure is ok. By learning not to judge ourselves harshly when we trip on one of life’s stumbling blocks. Dusting ourselves off and trying again is easier in the absence of judgement.
What I don’t believe is that pushing through things like separation anxiety or bullying will help a child develop a resilient character. I believe pushing through that sort of strain only develops the skill of hardening a heart. Of shutting off access to parts of our softer side as an emotional preservation tool. Being continually stressed doesn’t develop resilience, it eats away at it.
My wife and I have long since moved past feeling embarrassed about our sensitivity. We’ve realised it’s actually something we love about ourselves, about each other. We’re sensitive. We’re soft. And we will absolutely step in and protect our children from any relentless emotional strain they’re experiencing whenever we can, for however long we can.
Resilience is a wonderful trait, but let’s not confuse it with the hardening of emotion.