Resilience. Self reliance. Resourcefulness.

hugging my first dog
Me, hugging my first dog, 1972.

A baby boomer looks back.

I think kids born in the 1950s and 1960s had the opportunity to try and fail, and their experiences engendered real, contextual learning that prepared them to succeed. Sometimes our parents would say, “good job,” but a pat on the back wasn’t the driving force propelling baby boomers to achieve.

When I was in high school, I ran track. No one came to watch me at a track meet, but it didn't make me feel bad because no one else's parents were there, either. Participation in team sports was driven by the individual child and not by parents who herded or guided kids to take certain paths.

Parents weren’t hyper-vigilant. I believe it's because it wasn't needed. For example, choosing to be part of a team meant there was an intrinsic desire to work cooperatively to achieve a goal. Improvements were based on learning from mistakes, and healthy competition provided important lessons.

These days I think it’s difficult to stay out of the affairs of our children. We want to smooth their paths. But does parental assistance (or interference) really help them, or does it disable their ability to learn to solve problems on their own?

When I was a teenager, I wanted contact lenses. But didn’t feel I could ask my family to pay for something so extravagant. I also knew I would need things for when I moved out for college in the fall: dishes, silverware, glasses, sheets and towels, pots and pans, small appliances, and a bicycle. In order to make it happen, it took planning.

I worked three jobs — part-time after school, a baby sitting gig in the evenings, and a weekend job at Jay Jacobs, where I served on their fashion board. I was able to pay the $600 needed to buy contact lenses, and also saved enough for the bicycle and other things on my list.

This all sounds very much like, “I had to walk ten miles in the snow to get to school,” but it's meant to say hard work is often necessary to get where we want to go. And when self-identified goals are in our sights, we have real incentives to achieve them.

It makes me wonder if every generation feels life was tough when they were young? The saying, “Where there is a will, there’s a way,” is profoundly true. I hope our desire to make life easier for our kids allows them to develop goals, and devise ways to achieve them without mom's and dad’s help.

Resilience. Self reliance. Resourcefulness. Encouraging these qualities could be among the greatest gifts we give to our children.


  1. Hi Terri,

    Thanks for your thought-provoking post. It's impressive that you were so self motivated ~ I think that even in the 60s, that was unusual! I had a similar background, but my high-achieving Dad, though he didn't pressure me, was my role model. However, I do agree that kids of our generation were generally more self motivated, partly because we weren't protected from failure.

    When our kids were growing up, I did want to know what was going on in their lives, so that my husband and I could decide whether to intervene or not. For example, good universities and the job market are more highly competitive than in the '70s, and if we could make our kids' paths easier, we did. I also wanted to be attuned to their emotional needs. I do agree, however, that learning from failure builds character, and that helicopter parents often prevent that. A Pew Research Study revealed that in 2014, 32% of adults in the U.S. still lived with their parents. Perhaps this relates to young adults being overprotected by their parents.

    1. Dear Linda,

      Thank you for reading and for your great comments. I don’t think I was especially self-motivated!

      I really liked what you said about not being “protected from failure.”

      Great lessons are learned from mistakes. Maybe it’s empathy that makes us want to help our kids avoid as many hazards as possible.

      I hope it didn’t sound like parents were uninvolved, but I think they placed more faith and responsibility in their kids to have common sense and to learn to figure things out. It was a different time.

      I remember taking a bus downtown to the YMCA when I was in the fourth grade so I could take swimming lessons. I can’t imagine most parents would think it’s safe now to let their kids do that.

      What a fascinating statistic about the percentage of adults living with their parents!

      Another way to view it is, Americans are beginning to embrace the idea that it can beneficial for multiple generations to live together.

      Thank you again, Linda. You’re a wonderful and supportive friend.

      Warm regards, Terri

  2. Hi Terri,
    Thanks for this post. Since we come from some of the same beginnings, I agree that our parents instilled in us self motivation with expectations of achievement. Brings back good memories.

    1. Hi and thank you for reading and commenting!

      Sometimes I wonder if the way I grew up was common mostly among Japanese Americans, or Asians? Because I think my peers were equally motivated!

      My best friend and I have often talked about how the “camps” really messed with our parents’ generation.

      Whatever our origins, I think you’re right — parents of baby boomers instilled self-motivation and expected us to achieve.

      And at the end of the day, whatever our successes or failures, we learned self-sufficiency.

      I really appreciate your comments!

      Warm regards, Terri

  3. I just read your blog "Resilience. Self reliance. Resourcefulness." You highlight an important dilema that the kids are facing at the moment. I'm not sure how it is in the US, but I get the feeling that kids here have been made dependent on schools, which don't talk to them, but to the parents instead, and then the parents talk to their kids. The parents have been put in a middle position they have to share with full time and mostly demanding jobs. Exactly the issue you describe has been bothering me a lot. I have 3 boys, all at home, and all having trouble with exactly these 3 issues. And like you, when I go back to my childhood, I can't remember ever having had such issues. If I needed money for something, anything, I had to work for it. I didn't even think of asking from my parents. I moved out when i was 18, wanted to be on my own as soon as possible ... But how to bring these values back, so kids learn this. And it's not that no kid learns to rely on her/himself, most are doing just fine. But mine are not, and I would love to change that, with my 11 hour work day. Are we parents working too hard, are we too ambitious, do we look at the wrong things in our children, is this just a parent problem or is (western) society as a whole also a factor .... Anyway, Happy weekend!

    1. Dear Robert,

      My gratitude to you for your comment. I’m sorry you’re experiencing some of the same things, but it reinforces my belief that we’re witnessing a societal outcome.

      The question of what to do … I wish I knew. Though we grew up on different continents, your parents and mine raised us so we were able to figure out how to achieve goals. And many of us eventually evolved into self-sufficient adults.

      The biggest differences may be the disappearance of the nuclear family as we knew it, combined with advances in technology.

      You and I grew up with television, but our kids grew up with video games, computers, and now smart phones. Tech devices are like extensions of their minds and bodies, and have become substitutes for human interaction and thinking. Any question can be answered in seconds, so the exercise of using one’s brain to devise answers has largely been eliminated.

      So to answer your question, I think we’re experiencing something unique to the developed world. And I would venture to guess behavior and life skills have remained unchanged in underdeveloped places. I wonder if the Amish have been able to sustain the teaching of how to competently live life?!

      I wish there were ways o help equip our kids with the same basic life skills we acquired so long ago. that is, without relinquishing our iPhones.

      Many thanks again, Robert!

      ((HUGS)) Terri

  4. I recall the same sort of experience. My father rarely attended any events. My mother, who was a home for part of my childhood, was involved then was not. We made it to practices and games and got through it all. Thanks for the post! Andrea

    1. Dear Andrea,

      Thanks for reading and for the comment.

      I think we all understood, the absence of our parents didn’t mean they didn’t love us.

      That we were allowed, or maybe in some case, expected, to pursue things on our own, engendered self-sufficiency and self confidence.

      We didn’t know life to be any different, and actually benefited from it.

      Really appreciated hearing from you, Andrea. Thanks again,

      <3 Terri

  5. First of all, I loved the photo of you and your first dog in the snow. And yes, we were raised differently, without parents hovering over every move and decision. We were released into the wild at an early age. I fell down many times, but over time it does make one stronger and more capable. I am at the point where I am now very thankful for my "absent parent" upbringing. Thanks for another fantastic post, Terri!

  6. Dear Paula,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post and for the eloquent response. I have almost no photos of myself in my teens and twenties, but found this one that Pat took so long ago.

    You and I have talked many times about being the children of Niseis, and know our parents’ experiences influenced us in myriad ways.

    But across cultures, I think there was a hands-off parenting mentality. So maybe the current parental hyper-involvement trend is compensating for what boomers missed?

    We share a lot of unique and common experiences, and I’m grateful it led us to become friends 40 years ago.

    Thank you for always being there for me,

    Love, Terri

  7. A very thoughtful piece. I sometimes wish we could reclaim some of the traditional values that we once took for granted. Love the photo.

    1. Dear D,

      Thanks for taking a look at the post and commenting.

      I think we were trying to recapture our experiences growing up when we bought and saved the house in Randle. It gave our kids and their friends the chance to figure out how to do things on their own.

      Fun shot by Patrick! I hadn't seen it for decades.

      Love ya, me

  8. An excellent and very thought provoking post, Terri. I've been chewing on it for the last few days. I've often been grateful to my mother for not overindulging us. At the same time, I wonder if she did it consciously to make us stronger or was it the result of having four children, a part time job, a husband and a home to take care of. I don't remember receiving kudos or anyone cheering me on or helping me, for that matter. Different times. It definitely forced us to be self motivated. If we wanted to do or have something, we had to figure it out. Loved this post, Terri.


    1. Dear Jennifer,

      I’m always grateful to read your thoughts, so thank you for commenting.

      Baby boomers seem to identify with similar “growing up” experiences. I wonder if Millennials are the result of compensating for our parents’ “hands-off” parenting style?

      “If we wanted to do or have something, we had to figure it out,” is so true! When a kid has to figure out how to get something, all kinds of creativity can come into play! I wonder if it helped cultivate resourcefulness?

      Somehow, we survived and even excelled without a lot of cheerleading. Gotta wonder what the future will bring.

      Thank you again, Jennifer.

      Love, Terri

      PS. Four kids, a husband and having a job is a lot by any standard, but amazing for a time when lots of moms were full-time housewives!

  9. I recently wrote an article similar to this but talked of my excellent Mom kicking us out of the house (more or less) in the morning with the idea that we would arrive back when she called us home for dinner all in one piece. I actually never thought my Mom worried that much about me at all until I went to Europe for three months with a backpack. When I called home once during the trip and I was in Brussels instead of Paris, not where my long forgotten itinerary said I would be, my brother told me she freaked out when she got off the phone. Before that, I never thought she worried about me at all.

    The challenge for parents today is being able to step back, have faith they have done a good job as a parent, and let that play out for better or worse (usually better). That is no small feat.

    1. Deer Peek,
      David and I have been waxing nostalgia about summers of our childhoods, where we were released in the morning, and would industriously build camps, catch critters and play with neighborhood friends until dinner.

      Part of letting kids to do that allowed us to learn how to get along ("I want to build the camp over here" "No, we should build it here because it's closer to the apple tree," etc.), and simply learn to hang out and play cooperatively. It's funny how something like "taking turns" is one of the great lessons of life that we learn so young.

      I agree with you, and think it's harder now for parents to be more hands off. Everyone is so competitive to have their kids be the best. But in stepping back I believe kids have the opportunity to build a stronger sense of self, and I wish things could roll back just a little.

  10. Always an inspiration for me to read your piece.. This reminds me of my younger days when I used to play football hoping to be a professional one day.. I never got the approval from my parents and it's a forgotten dream now.

    This piece depicted how kind and industrious you're. I must always thank you for the support and encouragement you offered me during the days I couldn't pick what's best for me. I'm doing better now!!

    Warm Regards
    Solomon (your twitter friend)

    1. Dear Solomon,

      You honor me by reading and leaving such a nice comment. Thank you so much!

      I don't know how long it has been since you played football, but always remember you did it because you loved it and you were good at it. Even if it didn't lead to pro ball, the great memories are yours forever.

      I'm so happy to know you're doing well, and thank you for reaching out the other evening on Twitter. It warms my heart to hear from you both there and here, and I really appreciate that you took the time to post such a kind comment.

      Keep doing what you love, and it will be its own reward, Solomon!

      ((HUGS)) Terri


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i'm a graphic designer who loves words. - terri nakamura