You probably know some helicopter parents. You probably know some parents who bubble-wrap their kids.

Imagine how they would respond to the idea their 12 year-old son would spend a month sailing across the Atlantic in a leaking ship... then spend two months traveling by mule across Spain and over the Pyrenees and into France... then travel overland to the Netherlands... and then at age 14 trek nearly 1,200 miles to St. Petersburg as the interpreter for the country's first diplomatic mission to Russia.

No way they would agree to that.

But Abigail Adams did. When her son John Quincy asked to forego a second trip with his father to France so he could stay home and prepare for Harvard, Abigail urged him to go:

"These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman."

Which is exactly what happened. John Quincy Adams went on to a long career in public service as a Representative, Senator, and President. He's also widely considered to be one of the greatest diplomats and Secretaries of State in U.S. history.

Almost every great success is formed by early struggle. The advantages gained -- perseverance, resilience, determination, and mental toughness -- last a lifetime.

Why? Because we can always do more than we think. We always have more in us. Most of our "limits" are arbitrary and self-imposed. When we think we're out of strength or energy,  when we think we're out of brain power or willpower, we're really not. 

We just think we are.

The sooner we learn that, the better.

Which is one of the reasons overzealous parenting can have such a negative impact on children. One study found that 21.6 percent of college students surveyed had been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety problems in 2016, up from 10.4 percent in 2008. Another study found that granting greater autonomy -- "parental encouragement of children's opinions and choices, acknowledgement of children's independent perspective on issues, and solicitation of children's input on decisions and solutions of problems" -- is associated with less anxiety.

And greater independence.

Abigail Adams didn't have any research to fall back on. She just followed her instincts; as David McCullough wrote in John Adams, Abigail "would liken the judicious traveler to a river that increases its volume the farther it flows from its source."

You and I? We can only learn what we are able to achieve when we let ourselves go... and truly try.

And our kids can only learn what they are able to achieve when we let go of them a little more... and encourage them to truly try.

Even if -- especially if -- they might fail.

Because becoming independent means learning to make your own decisions.

No matter how things turn out.

Published on: Sep 6, 2018
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