We were on a 2-person kayak in Alaska’s Clover Pass in Ketchikan. My 9-year-old son was in the front and he kept fidgeting and adjusting his shirt instead of paddling. I asked what was wrong several times. Finally he said that his pocket telescope had fallen down his shirt and he was trying to get it out while not dropping it in the water. “You’re always telling us to suck it up and try to figure things out on our own so that’s what I’m doing.”
There’s some good parenting. I apologized and said that “Suck it Up” doesn’t apply to every situation. I’ve only said it a couple of times like when my boys complain about walking a couple of blocks to school or when the food I’ve made them for dinner isn’t quite up to their standards. I stressed that he can always ask for help.
Then I thought about it. How often do our children work out their own problems these days? There is parenting advice to deal with all minutia of their lives. We tell them what to eat and when to eat it, we set up play dates for a certain amount of time in a controlled environment, we show them how to do most everything and correct them if it’s done wrong.
It’s not that I don’t want to let my boys loose and get dirty, explore, and be alone. We do that when we go camping or to National Parks. But during the day to day, we live in an urban area of Los Angeles where safety trumps exploration. They can’t tell me that they’re going to ride down the block to visit their friends because that next block is across a six-lane major thoroughfare.
I want my kids to be able to work through a situation on their own. But when they are never on their own how can they get into a situation? It’s the same story that many parents I know tell; when I was their age, I would walk home from school, let myself in with my key and make myself something to eat until my brother or parents got home. On weekends, I would go out and play and come home before dark.
Plus, there are kids in Los Angeles who have it really hard. With circumstances that my boys couldn’t comprehend unless it was covered in Harry Potter or Phineas & Ferb.
That’s why when they complain about having to do chores or not wanting to run errands I may be less than sympathetic.
Maybe suck it up isn’t the best choice of words. “Work It Out” or “Power Through” is probably a better choice. I talk to my boys a lot, but I’m sure that the one thing, the one phrase that they’ll remember when they approach middle age and start seeing a therapist is that their mother told them to “Suck it Up.”
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