I Suck At Letting My Kids Struggle, But I Know They Need Me To Back Off

by Ashleigh Wilkening
RyanJLane / iStock

As I make breakfast, I hear one of my toddlers cry and whine over his blocks. He’s upset he can’t build and manipulate them in the way he wants. He’s getting increasingly frustrated and starts to throw them out of anger. He so desperately wants to make a deer like his daddy showed him the night prior, but he can’t and doesn’t know how. Time and time again, he’s so close, but no cigar.

He’s well aware how to ask for help, but doesn’t want help. He wants to do it on his own.

All too often, I embarrassingly come to the rescue. I swoop in and fix the problem. In situations like these, without thinking, I step in and will make that damn deer for him.

What’s my reasoning to feel the need to come to the rescue? Shamefully, I admit there are some occasions the never-ending cries and screams can be so overwhelmingly deafening, I am all too eager to stop it as quickly as possible. Sometimes my actions are a result of not having the time to deal with this hot-mess-express of a toddler explosion trying to figure out how to tie his Velcro shoes. Most often, though, my reasoning is the most basic: It’s so hard to watch my child struggle.

It’s not hard in the sense it’s frustrating to see my toddler trying to accomplish an impossible action only to get overly emotional and upset over something so absurd, like being unable to build a deer out of blocks. It’s hard in that it’s painful to see him trying his hardest to accomplish something, and regardless of his best effort, failing over and over and over again. It’s painful to see him wanting so badly for an outcome that his little hands or mind can’t deliver. It’s painful so see him hurt and disappointed in himself.

I just want to fix it all for him. I want to see him smiling and laughing, not sad with defeat and disappointment. I can’t be the only mother in the world who hurts when they see their child feel inadequate or ill-equipped to do something. We are always preaching to our children how they can accomplish anything they set their minds to, but what if they can’t.

What if I continue to come to his rescue? What if I’m always there? What if I become his crutch, and he always depends upon me to help him? What if I don’t offer him this freedom, and thus never will be able to independently figure things out?

Granted, this discussion is stemming from a 3-year-old playing with blocks, leaving you rolling your eyes at me overanalyzing and overthinking — which I happen to be a pro at by the way. But what if it’s not?

Thinking back on different situations throughout my children’s lives, I’m guilty of running to their side quicker than I probably needed to. Even back to when they began to walk, I was on pins and needles within arm’s reach, scared of them falling. Did they fall? Of course, they did. Was it the end of the world? Of course, it wasn’t. They learned to pick themselves up and figured out how to walk and eventually run.

In the not-too-distant future, when they learn to ride their bikes, the training wheels will come off. I will need to let go of their seats and watch them take off down the road on their own. Will they fall? Most likely, but they’ll get back on and try again. If I never let go, how else will they learn?

My husband is so much better at this desired “hands-off” approach. I envy how he doesn’t feel this intense urge to come to our kids’ rescue. He’s always tuned-in when in our children’s presence and notices these situations, same as I do, but he has more self-control. He is better at giving them this much-needed room to overcome whatever obstacle is currently in their way.

Kids need to struggle. Besides making them stronger individuals, they learn persistence, determination, and the importance of resiliency. They are able reap the rewards of overcoming a challenge, which in turn help to build their confidence. They will fail, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. Things will not always work out in their favor, and they need to learn how to work through this disappointment, how to recover, and how to bounce back.

I want and need to give my children the necessary tools to work through their problems and be strong, capable individuals. What if they enter the world without this skill set? Maybe I’ll be lucky, and they will still turn into successful contributing members of society. On the other hand, I could end up with an overgrown child unable to figure life out, living in my basement mooching off my retirement. It’s already hard enough to manage and navigate life as it is — what happens when you don’t have the necessary knowledge to work through problems and obstacles?

It’s my job to teach, guide, and help, not to do it all and fix everything for them — no matter how painful it is to watch them struggle and figure things out for themselves. It may be small obstacles now, but perpetuating this cycle will only hinder and hurt their ability to problem-solve in the future. I need to do a better job of giving them the opportunity to figure things out and work through challenges on their own.

I can’t always be there to solve their problems, but I will always be there to help.