Upside of pain is that it teaches life lessons

Friday, August 28, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

I’ll admit it. I was a little blown away.

My husband and I went baby shopping the other day and there, among the aisles of toys, strollers and blankets, was a row of items designed specifically to keep your little one safe from the big, bad world.

As I browsed through the items, I couldn’t help but marvel over the things they’ve come up with since I was a child: bottle sanitizers, shopping cart seat liners, plastic coverings for the corners of coffee tables, even bumpers to put on the edges of doors to keep one’s child from pinching his or her fingers. All I could think was, “Someone’s making a killing by preying on the fears of new parents.”

How did this happen? When did shielding our children from every last germ or bruise become the status quo?

Since I’m expecting a baby of my own soon, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what kind of parent I’d like to be, and I think I’ve come to a decision: I want to be the kind of parent who allows their child to get hurt.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m fully aware that no good parent actually wants their child to experience pain, whether it’s emotional or physical. But as many good parents also know, it’s impossible to shield a child from every kind of hurt. In fact, I think it’s unhealthy – for the parent and the child – to even try.

A co-worker of mine recently said it best: “Getting hurt builds character.” She’s exactly right.

When I think of the lessons I’ve learned in my lifetime, the ones that are most vivid are associated with some kind of pain.

One such lesson occurred when I was about 10-years-old. I had been bitten by the horse bug, and my mother, recognizing that this was a chronic condition, encouraged me to start riding. All was going well until the day my horse became spooked and I fell off. Fortunately I didn’t break any bones, but I landed on our gravel driveway hard enough to knock me unconscious for a few seconds.

After that, I was terrified of ever riding again. Mom humored me for a couple weeks, but she could see that deep down I wanted to get back in that saddle. She eventually convinced me to do it, and I’ve been riding ever since. But that experience, though painful, taught me to never give up doing something I love.

That lesson came with a multitude of positive repercussions: I became involved in 4-H Club, where I made many friendships and happy memories; I learned skills and developed confidence that I carry with me to this day; and yes, I eventually got to experience the pride and sense of accomplishment that came with earning my first ribbon in horsemanship.

Looking back on my life, I realize that I was one of those kids who liked to test my boundaries. I was always covered in “war wounds” of some sort. I also realize that I am blessed to have parents who were willing to accept the fact that kids get into things and sometimes they get hurt. Whether it was hunting deer or trying out for the school play, they allowed me to try things on my own. At times I succeeded, but when I failed, my parents were always there to pick me up, dust me off and set me back on track. Their method helped me become confident in myself and taught me to make my own decisions.

Protecting your child is one thing. Protecting them to the point of inhibiting their growth is another.

Quite frankly, I’m looking forward to doctoring skinned knees and kissing boo-boos better.

Jen Russell is a night news editor at the Missourian. She welcomes your comments at

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Mark Foecking August 28, 2009 | 12:26 p.m.

When I was a kid, our family doctor would tell my parents not to worry too much about our little, or eating dirt, or other things kids do when left to themselves. She thought the best way to have a healthy immune system is to use it a lot (and there some good scientific backing for this).

Americans are losing touch with life, in a lot of ways. We have conquered/mastered all the things that were the big killers of the 19th century, so now, all we have to worry about is maybe getting a mild disease from touching someone else's shopping cart (for example). A lot of our obsession with antiseptics and cleanliness actually makes the problem worse, by encouraging the emergence of resistant strains.


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