Day 14: When Hardship is Fertile Ground for a Brighter Future

31 days final big button

Yesterday morning I listened to a story on NPR on my rainy drive to the middle school. The interviewers were talking to Dr. Jennifer Doudna, a scientist responsible for ground-breaking genetics work. They asked the sorts of questions most interviewers ask people who have arrived at a place of greatness. How did you get here? What sort of education did you have? Her answers were rather unremarkable and that’s why I loved them.

During her elementary years her family moved to Hawaii. She stuck out like a sore thumb with her white skin, tall body, bigger nose, blonde hair, and non-Asian features. She was an insecure new girl without friends. The public library became her resting place as she found solace and friendship among the books. Science books coaxed out her natural interests. Without friends and fitting in, she had copious time for books about plants and flowers. The misfit girl was a biologist in the making and her less-than-ideal school circumstances laid down the path for her future.

This part of the story wasn’t the focus of the interview but it was certainly the most fascinating part to me, someone who’s very curious about the ways our individual paths — whether by design or default — bear fruit in the world.

If that scientist girl was my child or your child and we knew that she had no friends, that school was perhaps dreadful as a result, we’d do something about it. And quick. Perhaps we’d homeschool or find a private school, any place where she could be happy and well-adjusted. But Dr. Doudna doesn’t seem sad about it now. She acknowledges the painfulness of those years but she also acknowledges the gifts within them. The gifts that have since opened up world-changing possibility to cure diseases in the not so distant future.

We all have our stories. Many of us would probably rewrite whole sections if we could. But I’m willing to bet that each one of us can look at the tougher things that have shaped us and acknowledge the grace hidden beneath the hardship. Perhaps some of the difficult chapters we’ve lived motivate us to want something different for our own kids. And that’s okay. It’s normal to want to spare our children from hardship. It’s natural to desire an education and an educational experience that opens wide the doors of opportunity and joy.

When I got the call from the front office {again} this morning that a really important thing was left at home and could I bring it, I reluctantly said, No. I’m sorry but my child is going to have to absorb the consequences.

We’ve been in a season of irresponsibility and even though it pains me, I’m knowingly giving my own child over to a rough day — made even rougher because the lunchbox was left at school yesterday which means that today’s fare is tied up in an embarrassing plastic grocery bag. {Please tell me I am not the worst mom ever.}

mothers day loot

Maybe the rough day will spark remembrance next time. That’s the hope. Or maybe it will backfire, settling down on my well-intentioned self in a cloud of ash and resentment.

That’s the thing about parenting — it’s more art than science. All I know is that I have to be there with love, sympathy, and compassion, even when my own decisions — right or wrong — are partly responsible for the hardship.

The point is this. We want to spare our children from every hard thing. But we need to wisdom to know when the hard things are actually the right things. We won’t always know.

Perhaps the zero on the assignment becomes the spark that ignites the slow burn toward responsibility.

Perhaps the pain of always being the last one to finish the test matures into a quiet confidence that knows we each have our own pace.

Perhaps the solitary and seemingly fruitless days of one-on-one teaching at home grow the frustrated dyslexic into an accomplished writer.

Sometimes the lonely days at the library become fertile ground for the budding scientist who will grow up to change the world.


What hard experience during your own school years has perhaps shaped you for the better?

For all the posts in this 31-day series, go here. And to read the other posts I’ve written on topic of schooling, you can go here and find them all in one place.

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  1. says

    I try to remember that my experience won’t be my child’s, and I know sometimes that is how I see my child, looking through their school experience through my own school lenses. I used to be all about sparing my children from hardships, but I now see it as room to grow strong and grow independent. We moms are there to help encourage our children and give advice when needed, but we need to let them experience these things.

    • Marian says

      Lisa, that’s a good point. It’s easy to project onto our children from our own experiences, both good and bad. It’s practically impossible not to. And yes, that is one of the many reasons we need community, support, and truthful perspective from others.

  2. says

    This is a really great post. What you wrote about is not new information for me, but rather a necessary reminder that allowing my children to experience the hard can turn out for their good. Eventually. And I must “stay this course” we’re on knowing that one day, one day, the fruit will indeed come : )

    • Marian says

      Pam, it’s not new information for me either but it might as well be. I certainly don’t practice this sort of open-handed trust about the good and bad where my kids and education are concerned. So much of what I write feels like I’m stating the obvious. Again. For myself. : ) Glad I’m not the only one.

  3. Brittney says

    Love this perspective!
    The hard things for me were usually friend related or sadness over being left out. It developed a sense in me to be able to read the emotional state of an environment and connect with people wherever they are at.

    • Marian says

      Brittney, thanks for sharing that. This is one of those things we don’t “teach” our kids, right? I think we all learn it the hard way but it’s such an important skill {character trait?} to possess.


  1. […] From Condoleezza Rice, a product of homeschool, segregated public school, and religious private school, we learn that success is not simply the outcome of natural smarts, which she definitely had. A loving family, academic diligence, supportive community, deep and abiding faith, courage and dignity in the face of adversity and prejudice — they all wove themselves into the tapestry of gracious excellence that is her life. We also learn that hardship can be fertile ground for a brighter future. […]

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