Before the war (as my parents used to say) “character building” was a good thing. In the 50’s and 60’s when something was hard, educators could say to us students, “Just do it. It’s character building.” They must have misused the expression, or used in once too often, or something. Because, today, character building seems to have become something we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. These days the expression rears its ugly head in moments like:
Uncle: “How was that sailing trip you went on with your parents?” Teenage nephew: “Character building.”
Girl Friend: “How was your honeymoon?” New Bride: “Character building.”
Father: “How was your first geology class?” Daughter: “Character building.”
These answers often come with a grimace or a smirk of some sort, and our response to the response is a nod of sympathy and a look of vicarious disappointment. I was hoping you would “have a good time.”
And what do we really wish for our children? I usually hear, “I just want them to be happy,” and though I rarely hear, “Successful,” it is nearly impossible for loving parents not to want both.
Happiness and success are the unexamined goals both for ourselves and our children, even after (maybe sometime in our mid thirties or so) life confronts us with the reality that much of life is going to be “character building” whether we like it or not.
How is it with you? Was there a moment, or did it come upon you gradually that life is about hard as much as happy? Was it a falling out with your boss that ended badly? Was it disillusionment with your job? Was it the second child? When did the frustrations and disappointments mount upon each other to convince you that not even you could do it all? Or has that happened?
If you faced that moment, how did you rally? Has that changed what you wish for your children?