Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Everyday Grace: Children learn through adversity
by Mary Cronk Farrell
(From the Oct. 23, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
Lisa’s heart aches when she remembers her son’s seventh grade year. Robert’s fellow classmates formed an “I Hate Robert Club,” issuing business cards to members and creating a website with a guestbook where teens could list the reasons they hated her son. The kids scorned him in the old-fashioned ways, too – whispering, laughing, pointing and excluding him from activities.
Robert’s parents considered removing him from the school. “But then I thought, this is our parish. This is our school. We’re not in the wrong, and we won’t be driven away,” said Lisa. They met with the principal and insisted on safety for their son at school. They continued to offer him loving support at home.
This year Robert entered high school and has a new group of peers. Lisa says, “He told me it still hurts when he remembers the club, but that he learned a lot from the experience.”
Perhaps nothing torments parents as deeply as seeing their own children’s pain. Some will do almost anything to assuage the pain or guard against it. Yet often when we reflect on our own lives, we realize that it is through suffering and adversity that we have grown in wisdom, compassion and strength of character.
Cheryl Bostrom, mother of two, says her son struggled during his middle school years, but that it “drove him into God’s arms.” His experience broadened his worldview, gentled him and made him more compassionate.
Life came much easier for her daughter. “People fell over themselves to spend time with her,” says Bostrom. “She was a starter on all the sports teams and easily got good grades.” Bostrom and her husband recognized that their daughter saw life as entertainment and fun. They realized they must refuse to indulge this idea of “life as a lark” and began to look for every way possible to allow their daughter to experience difficult consequences.
The girl had passed her driver’s license exam with a score of 100 percent and thought she was an expert driver. But she accidentally backed up without using her mirrors and damaged several cars. Her parents chose not to make a claim with the insurance company, but required her to pay for the repairs. She spent the whole summer earning the money.
Despite her parent’s efforts, it wasn’t until college that Bostrom’s daughter experienced significant challenges. At a school where she knew no one, and playing on a volleyball team where for the first time she was not a starter, she called home and “begged us to rescue her,” says Bostrom.
They didn’t. And now their daughter thanks them for it.
Bostrom is the co-author of a new book, Children at Promise: 9 Principles to Help Kids Thrive in an At-Risk World (Jossey-Bass). The book acknowledges that children cannot survive hazards alone. According to co-authors Bostrom and Tim Stuart, the key to helping children turn negatives into positives is the presence in their lives of a caring parent or other adult.
There can be a fine line between needless harm, and the natural adversity of life. Some children may be in situations that should be classified as abuse, obligating parents to intervene and protect them. On the other end of the spectrum, parents may be so protective that they become indulgent, which can be equally damaging to youngsters.
In our affluent Western culture, we’re often free to avoid even the uncomfortable. We have an abundance of technology and conveniences that make our lives easier than those of past generations and some other cultures today. Parents must seek a middle ground where their children face an appropriate amount of grief and struggle within the bounds of supportive, loving adult relationships. Prayer, reflection and discussion with trusted friends or a spiritual advisor can help us distinguish between redemptive pain and senseless harm.
We know that if our children choose to follow the Gospel, they will not avoid the cross. Christ is our example of transforming suffering and death to life.
(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free- lance and children’s writer. She is a contributing author to the new book Daughters of the Desert: Stories of Remarkable Women from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions, from Skylight Paths Publishing.)