Last weekend, our family celebrated a milestone event. Our third son graduated from Hillsdale College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in politics. As commencement approached, my mind went back to where it all began.
It was over spring break during his junior year of high school that he traveled to Kenya. With a small team of other youth from our church, he worked at the Baby Centre where cast-off and abandoned babies, some with AIDS and other diseases, were lovingly received. There in that impoverished country, his love and appreciation for all that is America rose within him, and he knew what his calling would be.
“I think,” he said in his quiet way, “that it will be political science.”
He spent his freshman year of college at a state university nearby, bridling at the progressive agendas being taught in the classroom. Thus, on a frigid, January day, we found ourselves on the campus of Hillsdale College in Michigan. I remember the certainty I felt that day. “Hand in glove,” I thought. “This is where he belongs.”
He sent in his application. For weeks, he waited. At last, an envelope came in the mail. Eager, we gathered around him as he opened it up. The answer was no.
I held my breath. How would this quiet, non-emotive son of mine handle this disappointment? Would it crush him? Throw him into despair? Heart in my throat, I watched him to see.
Without batting an eye, he began the process a second time. One day he came to me and said, “Mom, I’m going to try to get an internship with the congressman. A letter from him would help my application.”
He applied for the internship and got it. For an entire school year, he traveled 100 miles round trip twice a week to work in the congressman’s office, taking part-time classes at a different state university over there. Partway through that year, he sent a second application to Admissions at Hillsdale. As he waited for the answer, he poured his heart and soul into the work at hand, helping constituents and staff while going to school. One more time, he got a “no.”
Again, I held my breath. Again, this blue-eyed son of mine surprised me. He took up his bat and without missing a beat, he reared back, taking one more swing.
I shall never forget the day a thick, beautiful packet arrived in the mail. “Congratulations!” it read. “You’ve been accepted.” Many months and three tries later, he was in. We all gave thanks.
The reason I share this very personal family story is because of what it teaches. The first thing is this—you will not fully know what’s in your kids until they are tested. Trials and hardships always reveal one’s character. As intuitive and connected as I am to my children, even I wasn’t entirely aware of the resilience and perseverance that had developed unseen in the depths of that courageous heart. Watching our son rise after two stunning disappointments to try once more showed us what was inside. His father and I rejoiced, for adversity had revealed his strength.
The second lesson in this account is that it’s good for our children to face hard things. As painful as it is to watch them struggle, it is an essential part of life. Just as strong muscles are formed through hours of exertion with heavy weights, so it is with character. It is resistance that builds muscle, resistance that builds inner strength, or fortitude.
We should not insist on snow plowing the roads of life, as author Kevin Leman says, for our children. If we do, we will produce weak, immature adults who are ill equipped to navigate life with all its challenges. This is not what wise parents want.
As hard as it is, we dare not rush about, slipping pillows beneath young buns to cushion every fall. Refusing to let our children face hard things, including the consequences of their own decisions, is crippling for them. It’s unwise, and it simply kicks the can down the road. The longer we make them wait to learn what they really need to know, the bigger and more dire the consequences will be. This is not what wise parents do.
The wisest parents I know are those who model nobility, integrity, virtue, and faith. They teach responsibility by being responsible first. They teach nobility and integrity by being noble, honest people first. They teach virtue and faith by living lives of moral excellence, constrained in every way by their faith. They do it first.
When hardships come, they demonstrate patient endurance. In suffering, they exhibit a quiet trust in the God they know. In disappointment, they refuse to relinquish hope. With deeds and words, they lead the way, wise parents going first.
For young parents starting out, these truths are tools, shortcuts learned from hard experience. For parents in the thick of raising adolescents, there is time to course correct if you’re missing the mark. For those whose children are grown and the pangs of regret are real, it’s not too late to start something new, to show them a different way. Begin simply with a humble admission of wrong and a request for forgiveness. Then start living it out.
You can. God will help. I do know.
As always, may God bless America. May He bless every family, too.