We were excited. Bewick’s wrens had been building a nest in the little house we had put up to attract them. We watched for days as the male and female flew back and forth with nest material. It was a great location, and this would be our first nest here in the Texas Hill Country. We were looking forward to watching this miracle unfold, up close and personal.

Then on June 8, 2010, a day many people in our area will remember for a long time, we had scattered thunderstorms during the day, with an accumulation of about an inch. That night, a vicious thunderstorm dropped another two inches on our property. I woke up to the thunder in the middle of the night. The next day we learned there were about 3,000 lightning strikes per hour. Some areas got ten inches of rain all at once. The Guadalupe River rose quickly, and summer campers were caught by surprise. The river rose about 20 feet in the middle of the night and campers, trucks and cars were swept downstream. Amazingly, only one person died.

After the storm, we never saw the wrens again. My wife, Kathleen, assured me that they make alternate nests and the female wren may have chosen another. We heard wrens calling in the distance. We wondered if they were our wrens.

Later that morning I saw Kathleen sitting on the back porch steps with a battered hummingbird in the palm of her hand. She had found it sitting confused on the small footbridge over our dry creek bed. She just walked up to it and picked it up. I sprinkled some water on it, and it surprised us by flying away.

Birds are one of life’s miracles, and as we watch them come and go it’s easy to imagine a kind of ideal life for them of nest-building and raising young in the sanctuary of our back yard. But the thunderstorm reminded us of something. The truth is, a bird’s life is brutally hard. They struggle every day to survive.

Then I thought, human lives are tough, too. Businesses struggle and go bankrupt. Homes are lost. Marriages fail. People fight cancer and other life-threatening diseases. The people we love die. Unexpected downpours wash people downstream in the middle of the night.

When my wife and I lived in Vero Beach, in the summer of 2004 our home suffered a direct hit from a Category II hurricane. Flood waters entered our back sun room and every leaf on every tree in our community was gone. Two weeks later, even before the insurance adjusters could assess the damage, a second hurricane, a Category III, slammed into our home. We were without power for about a month. We had to replace our roof. Hotels on the beach were totally ruined. It took a while, but we cleaned up and remade our lives there.

I’m sure you could tell your own tales. I don’t think I know anyone who’s had it easy. All these folks, without exception, have struggled to overcome adversity. We try to protect our families from all this, but the truth is, life is hard. A worst-case scenario happens, usually not when we expect it. And we have to dig down deep and engage that thing we call personal strength. Like the people who were picked out of the river, we discover that the ability to do the hard things needs to be there for us.

I write for parents, so why this story about wrens and campers and hurricanes?

Simple. Your child, as an adult, will eventually suffer soul-crunching challenges. Maybe even tragedies. You know this because it’s an unavoidable part of life. We’d like them to have the fairy-tale life we imagine, but it’s not going to turn out that way. Unfortunately, some people don’t have the personal strength to endure these experiences and are ruined by them.

Wanting to protect your child from every hurt and problem comes from a place of love. But the only way to help your kid grow up strong is to let him or her experience the challenges of youth and support them as they work through the difficulties themselves. The kind of strength they’ll need as adults, like every other behavior pattern, can only be gained through repeated experience. This isn’t about “tough love.” It’s about preparing a young person for real life.

Another bird “nest-building” story for parents…

More truth-telling about parenting.

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