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Getting Out of the Comfort Zone

A text message from my daughter, who is spending a semester abroad: “Paris is GREAT but the hostel is so grungy.”

The next text: “Okay, grungy was an understatement.”

On her first solo travels on the cheap, my daughter is getting out of her comfort zone, ­in this case the Marriott.  And that’s a good thing.

Many baby boomer kids, like my daughter,  were raised in a permanent comfort zone.  Our first instinct as parents is to keep them securely nestled inside for as long as we can afford it.  Yet, as noted in last week’s interview with a tough-love author, learning to deal with adversity is critical for our children to navigate the road to adulthood.

In chatting with some friends at the gym and at the hair dresser (for some reason we tend to be more talkative dripping sweat or hair coloring) we agreed that a “hands-off” approach  is necessary…but  hard!  Perhaps it’s the knowledge that adversity is a lifelong companion that makes us yearn to smooth out the rough edges when we can. And, frankly, it’s often easier to hand over a solution than to hear the whining.

But sometimes we do manage to do the right thing and let the kids figure it out for themselves.

One mother told us told about her commuter-college son who’s on a three-month internship working at a resort.  He called to complain that to get to the internship from his housing he must take a bus that gets him there either an hour early or ten minutes late. At home, he had a car at his disposal so he had never relied on public transportation.

“I told him then he’d have to be an hour early, not the answer he wanted to hear,” said the mom.  So much for the old comfort zone.   The mom admitted it was emotionally difficult to see him struggling to live on his own for the first time.  Indeed she had decided to back off and not call him for a few days.  “But it’s hard,” she said. “My impulse is to step in and solve the problem for him.”

So the hostel is grungy or the bus gets to work an hour early, relatively  minor inconveniences in the scheme of all that can happen in life.  Still “deal with it!” is not what our kids are used to hearing.

But, in a subtle way, that was exactly the message a friend at the gym gave to her oldest son, working his first job, paying rent on an apartment in the city, and struggling to make ends meet.  The mom admitted it would easy to send him $50 or so a month to help close the gap.  But she said that would also be sending him  the message that she didn’t have confidence in his ability to figure out a solution.

And indeed he did: no more lunches out.  “I closed my budget gap,” he told her proudly.  “I bought a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and now I bring my lunch!”

Mon Dieu, just how bad was that Parisian hostel.  I suppressed my knee-jerk need-to-know and the instant impulse to whip out my Amex card. Sometimes stepping back and not jumping in to problem-solve is the best way to help.

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  • Vivien February 7, 2011, 10:46 am

    Yeah, well, last week I scored a major Fail in this department, MQ. Offspring #3, a college freshman, was pining to visit his lovely girlfriend at her school for the first time, and the logistics (shuttle-busses/Greyhound/Amtrak) really are quite daunting. And he had a paper and lab report due. And one teeny oversight could wreak havoc with the 10+ hour journey (including him blowing his Monday classes). I knew it was important for HIM to learn how to map out travel-plans on his own, but when he beseeched me to come to his aid, I caved. Offspring #1 and #2 rolled their eyes meaningfully. Note to self: stop thinking about the big lug as The Baby. Or else he always will be.

  • Ruth Nemzoff February 7, 2011, 12:18 pm

    If we are always solving our children’s problems, we cheat them out of their victories.

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