Am I Hurting My Kids By Creating Too Much Stability For Them?

Stability

My kids live a remarkably stable life, with the potential for an uncommonly stable life. Neither my wife nor I travel for work, so with a few exceptions, our kids have seen us just about every day of their lives.

They live in the same house they have always lived in. They attend a school that is K-12, so they have the potential to be in the same school with the same group of kids for all 13 years of their primary education.

My wife and I have a very healthy and stable relationship, so they aren’t exposed to volatile arguments or unhealthy conflict. They’ve never experienced any trauma or significant loss.

You get the picture. And I understand that they are still young and there is plenty of opportunities for things to change, but if they don’t this is an abnormal amount of stability.

My Life

Let’s contrast their life to my own. When I was 3, we moved away from all of our friends and family to an entirely new country. By the time I was 9, we had moved 6 different times. Including a multi-month stay at a Hotel. (My parents bought a new construction townhouse and it wasn’t built in the timeframe the builder agreed to, so the builder put us up in a hotel until it was completed.)

By the time I got to high school, I’d been through 4 different school districts and 5 different schools. Throughout my childhood, my father traveled frequently for work and we’d often go long stretches without seeing him.

During my early childhood, my parents did not have the most stable relationship and would often fight. This culminated in a separation when I was around 7. They worked things out and got back together and had a much healthier relationship after that 9-month separation.

We had a series of people living with us for various periods of time. My parents would open up our house to people in need, so there was always an interesting cast of characters staying in our guest room.

I experienced several minor traumas and a couple major ones throughout my formative years. Needless to say, stability was not a part of my childhood.

The Cost of Stability

This got me thinking, who is better off, my kids or me? Sure, some of the instability I experienced wasn’t exactly beneficial. However, it taught me to be adaptable and resilient. Qualities that to this day remain with me.

Is the unique stability that my kids are experiencing robbing them of the ability to build their adaptability muscles? I don’t know the answer to that question. But I do know that I want my kids to learn to be flexible, to know how to adapt when things in their life change because they will change.

But I’m not going to create instability in our lives, just to teach my kids to be more resilient.

Is Stability the Enemy of Adaptability?

The truth is I don’t think I need to create more instability in their lives. It may have been how I learned to be adaptable, but it isn’t the only way to learn resilience.

Stability isn’t the enemy of adaptability. In fact, stability might be the best foundation from which one can learn to be adaptable.

Stability creates a sense of safety, which in turn creates confidence. A sense of safety and confidence can make it easier to take risks and venture into situations that require adaptability.

I recently wrote about my acrophobia, which was exacerbated during our recent road trip. However, during our stop at the Grand Canyon, I noticed that I felt slightly less petrified at the areas with a guardrail. The rail gave me a sense of safety and allowed me to be more confident in peering down into the Canyon.

I was able to access more of my inner resilience and adaptability when I felt safe…well, safe-ish. In fact, my kids demonstrated an amazing amount of resilience and adaptability during this trip as well.

They faced a chaotic schedule, disappointments, numerous inconveniences, and more plan changes than I care to admit. Yet, despite all of this, they showed more flexibility and resilience than I thought possible.

Final Thoughts

So maybe I don’t have to choose between stability and adaptability. Maybe they have a complimentary relationship rather than a converse one.

Let me know what you think. Is stability a detriment to learning to be adaptable or is it an asset? How did you develop resilience in your life?

17 Comments

  1. Excellent thought. Stability is never a bad thing, IMO. Our lifestyle is similar but I try to make sure my kids are exposed to things outside our own little bubble (ex: was fortunate to take my son on a trip to South America). Where we have to remain vigilant is in not giving them everything they want, teaching them to work, and making sure they know they are not better/different than others without the same level of financial security.

    1. Totally agree. I think exposing your kids to different experiences and different ways of living is one of the best ways to foster a healthy outlook. And travel often necessitates adaptability, so I think you are on to something!

  2. Adaptability is a personality trait. If you trust most of the scientific literature on personality, it will tell you that about 50% of personality is genetic and 50% is environmental. Environment depends primarily on family and peer group, and if you believe Judith Harris’ “The Nurture Assumption”, it’s mostly peer group.

    My point is that a lot of this is out of your hands. Even if you are influencing your child’s eventual adult personality in some way, how exactly are you influencing it? Who knows what effects your words and actions might have. And we all know kids often do the exact opposite of what parents say anyway.

    Of course, that does not mean that I don’t worry about what kind of monsters I am creating in my own house. I just worry about it less.

    1. Thanks for the insights Dr. C. I will try to worry less, but probably not 50% less. I remember reading that a parents personality is more impactful than any parenting technique deployed by the parent. I find this comforting as both my wife and I have pretty laid back personalities.

  3. Such a tough question. My childhood was definitely erratic and somewhat traumatic. In many ways that probably strengthened me, but I’m sure it also contributed to some of my less attractive behaviors or traits.

    Helping our children help themselves through situations at school, with friends, family, sports, disappointments, etc. instead of swooping in and taking over to try and make them feel better can go along way in teaching them skills for later in life.

    My guess is your boys will learn all they need to know about being adaptable as life goes on.

    By the way, will we hear from them again soon? Perhaps about their new school year?

    1. Thanks for the feedback Amy. I agree that the right guidance through life experiences has a way of refining healthy qualities. I’ll just have to be vigilant to provide that guidance 🙂

      Great idea about the boys blogging about school. I should float that by them before they start getting homework.

  4. This is a difficult question but it’s a great thing to ponder about as your kids get older and observe how they react to things that can bring instability and get them out of their comfort zone. Traveling is already something that they are doing as it can help on their adaptability since they are not sleeping in the same bed and not eating at home.
    Probably expanding on hobbies or doing projects around the house that can bring resiliency to solve a difficult task on their own. Something like making a DIY toy airplane for example.

  5. Your boys’ childhood sounds like my childhood – my brother’s 5 years older, so he was with my parents when they were living in Greece for 4 years, and when they moved to Canada for the first time; by contrast, my life was stable, my parents never fought (at least, not in front of us, when we were young), I went to the same small-ish school from K-12.

    But my parents were also incredible do-it-yourselfers, and lived a frugal, balanced life. My Dad worked a lot, but my Mum was around all the time until I was in grade 4 or something… it depends on the parent. If you’re the kind of role model that your boys can learn from, be that freedom and impact of choice, proactiveness, ingenuity, resourcefulness, confidence, compassion, support and creativity, I think stability will provide the same things having an erratic childhood can, but without the trauma that goes with it.

    I agree with the folks above though, at a certain point, it’s entirely out of your hands.

    All you can do is try to be the best parent you can and give them the tools and try to teach them lessons they’ll need later on in life 🙂 And I’m sure you’re doing exactly that, if you’re worrying about things like this!

    1. Thanks, Ms. Raggedly! Sounds like your parents did a great job of creating stability for you and helping model and develop a host of other qualities. Ultimately we can only do our best as parents and as you (and others) pointed out, at some point it is out of our hands. I appreciate your thoughts!

  6. Great post! I grew up in a home that was exactly like you are describing for your kids. Never moved, parents rarely argued, money wasn’t missing and yet I would say I turned out to be pretty flexible and adaptable.

    My parents would try very hard to get us out of the house and explore and do adventuresome things when the opportunity came up.

    Fast forward now I have a son of my own. Unlike my parents my wife and I have moved 6 times, 4 of those since having him. We have bought fixer uppers and flipped them.

    I would hope our son would still have the stability that I had growing up. I think it’s more than just your household and schools. If your children can healthily experience things that take flexibility then they can have that life your looking for. In the end though there is only so much we as parents can do!

    1. I think you’re right, the stability that really matters is the stability of growing up in a loving home. All the external factors may be inconveniences at times, but probably aren’t going to lead to an unstable experience.

      Sounds like your son is going to have some pretty great experiences and opportunity to learn a lot along the way. I have dreams of one day flipping a house but have zero ability or know-how, so we’ll see what comes of it.

  7. I’ve thought about this a lot. Malcom Gladwell has some interesting things to say about what makes people successful in one of his books – David vs Goliath. The instability and struggle can create the motivation for people to become successful in life. Many times, those who become successful this way then struggle to instill success in their children as that same drive isn’t there. After a couple generations, things tend to cycle back to poorer circumstances.

    Having a challenging upbringing is far from a blessing. Most who have a rough childhood do NOT end up successful as adults. So, I think you hit it on the head – building resilience is one of the things we can and should focus on as parents of kids that are growing up in a relatively stable situation.

    In the end, I’d rather our kids be kind first, happy second, and financially successful third. I hope they get all three, but if I had to prioritize, this is how I’d go.

    1. Sounds like a good set of priorities to me, and I’d take that order any day.

      David vs Goliath is my favorite of Gladwell’s books (but they are all so good). They’ll be mandatory reading for my kids when they get older (assuming I can mandate they read something when they get older).

      I always appreciate your thoughtful comments!

  8. Hmm, good thoughts! My one wish as a kid growing up in five different countries before high school was stability! I wish I had friends from elementary school.

    But having to change countries and schools every 2-4 years made me very adaptable. But it was sad leaving friends.

    Sam

    1. Thanks Sam! Hopefully, it doesn’t have to be a trade off and I can find a way to create adaptability while providing stability. But having changed school almost as frequently as you (albeit in the same country), I know how difficult it is to lose entire friend groups and have to start over.

      I really appreciate you stopping by and commenting! I’m a big fan of your site!

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