The Benefits of a Little Suffering

Mount Edith Cavell and the Angel Glacier in Jasper National Park

The Bear needed to go to the bathroom. It was our second last day in the mountains and we were far from any sort of conventional bathroom. Not a problem. She set off for the nearest tree. I watched her hold onto branches for support then look around for leaves to use as pseudo toilet paper.

It’s odd what moments you feel pride as a parent. But I did feel proud. There was no complaining, no hesitation in what she needed to do. In a short week, she had learned how get over this hurdle just like the many others before it.

We’ve just returned from a holiday in the mountains (the reason why I haven’t blogged in a while). We spent our time with a mixture of family and friends seeing familiar and not-so-familiar sites through the Rockies.

The Bear admirably rose to the occasion. We calculated that our little five-year-old hiked between one and two kilometers every day without complaint. Even Banana developed a distaste of the hiking backpack that we brought for her. And on our return trip from Mount Edith Cavell, Banana walked the whole way back on her own.
The girls slept in a tent in near freezing conditions. They awoke to watch their breath hanging in the air and put on their mittens and touques before having breakfast. Again, no complaints. They marveled at the insects, used outhouses unquestioningly, dusted off their bodies when they tumbled in the dirt and ignored the tree sap that seemed to make their hands forever sticky.

It can be difficult to justify this holiday as ‘fun’ to people who have never camped or who dislike hiking. To people who say they are ‘afraid’ of insects or who don’t like to get dirty. Because, yes, it is a little uncomfortable. But there are benefits to a little suffering.

When pushed into the unknown, into a state of discomfort, or being forced to suffer a little, one learns to be flexible and creative. One is forced to adapt, forced to come up with new ways of being. The kids don’t question this state. They accept the condition as fact and acclimatize quickly.

And the benefits? In short, children learn to be resilient. In fact, the scholars call this resilience theory.

As parents, we do our children a favour when we remove their cushy surroundings. We force them into an adaptive state so that they can find their inner creativity and resourcefulness. They learn to rely on themselves and discover new levels of confidence. They toughen up.

No, I’m not a malicious or vindictive parent. But there are benefits to a little bit of suffering. And you know what? As parents we benefit too. It’s feels good to remind yourself what your body and spirit are capable of.

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3 Responses to “The Benefits of a Little Suffering”


  1. 1 Michelle August 23, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Don’t you find that kids sometimes actually enjoy the things that we adults view as uncomfortable? My kids love to relieve themselves on trees and get disgustingly dirty! In their minds it’s special, something a bit rebellious. And they’re so proud when they’ve pushed themselves that little bit more, beyond their comfort zones – bouldering up to an ice cave, perhaps? Momma’s proud too 🙂

  2. 2 Koala Bear Writer August 23, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Jasper is one of my favourite places — I grew up hiking there nearly every summer since I about your daughter’s age. My daughters also love hiking (they’ll take turns in my Ergo carrier but both prefer to walk as much as we’ll let them, if we allow more time for their slower pace). I agree with you that a bit of suffering is good for them; camping has so many lessons for children (and adults!).

    • 3 Mama Tortoise August 23, 2011 at 11:36 am

      I believe it is the resilience we discover in ourselves that make us believe camping is ‘fun’. We mix up pride in our capability and strength with fun. You’re right, there are so many lessons in going camping.

      Thanks for commenting!
      -Laura


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