You may have read the story of Dawn Loggins.
Now 18, she was abandoned by her drug-addicted parents last year. Literally. According to news reports, the North Carolina teen was away at summer school when they just packed up and left town without her.
Of course, Dawn had a tumultuous life before then dealing with her parents’ addiction. She battled extreme poverty, often studied by candlelight because they could not afford electricity, found community showers to use and frequently had to wear the same clothes several days in a row. Still she dug her heels in and became a straight-A student. But suddenly last summer she was completely on her own and facing her senior year in high school. She didn’t melt down. She got a job as a janitor in the very school she attended. Teachers pitched in, and another janitor took her in to live with her.
Her advanced-placement classes came after arriving at 5 a.m. to pick up fellow students’ gum off the floor.
Dawn just recently graduated from high school. And she’s on her way to Harvard in the fall. Really.
This is not meant to suggest that every kid with a horrendous story like Dawn’s should be able to do the same. The fact that even one can do it is amazing. In a worldly sense, some people really do get an easier life than others.
I think it is, though, a great reminder to every parent like me who worries too much about his or her children when they have to face any kind of disappointment, much less adversity. I wrote a book, “It Takes a Parent” in which I discussed how we over-worry about every little scrape our kids deal with, from school cliques to not making the school play. We hate saying “no” to our children about anything, from a summer camp to a new type of shoes that everyone else has.
We simply overindulge their whining.
Some of us who are dealing with divorce or illness or the death of a spouse are tempted to go to even greater lengths to make sure our kids are happy.
Enter Dawn Loggins.
I may have written a book calling parents, including myself, to account on this very thing. But I still need to be reminded that when it comes to the routine disappointments of life, my kids will actually live to tell the tale. They will even probably be better off for it.
Dawn’s story helps me remember that most children in the West today, even considering the various “difficulties” they face, have life better and easier than almost any other children who have ever lived.
Perhaps not ironically, studies that have been done in the U.S. on young people and happiness show that they are far more depressed and anxious today than they were during the Great Depression. This is shown in psychological testing that has remained constant and has been routinely administered to samplings of high-school and college students since the late 1930s. (It comes from a respected psychological test called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.)
There are a whole host of reasons that this is true. I have to believe that one of them is we parents are too often terrified of letting our kids face and deal with disappointment, and letting them figure out that they will actually live in spite of it.
Of course, I never want my kids to experience the trauma that Dawn Loggins has. Nor is Harvard some be all and end all; it’s what it represents here that’s so important. Perspective matters. And when it comes to disappointments that are so much simpler, whether that includes problems with other kids at school, hearing me say “no” to a trip or some gadget, or even growing up in a one-parent family, if I believe that my kids will survive just fine — and they almost certainly will — they are more likely to believe it as well.
And they will be more ready to face the truly big disappointments and moments of adversity when those inevitably come along in life, too.
Best wishes to you, Dawn. And from at least this parent, thank you for a much-needed corrective.
Betsy Hart’s latest book is “From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports).” Reach her through [email protected]