I Get It Now

My son just got dumped.  

As these Junior High romances are wont to do, the bloom is off the rose.  Months of liking each other, modest gift exchanges at Christmas, furtive glances, shy smiles, and dragging mothers (me) to the holiday concert to see the girl in question perform, are all over.  As typical of a 7th grade romance, this one faded, for her at least.  She started liking his best friend.  Ooof.  She had her best girlfriend break the news to my son that she doesn’t want to “go out” with him anymore.  Double Ooof.  The hurt look in my unsuspecting son’s eyes. The sad way he schlumps around the house, not wanting to talk about it.  Ooof to nth degree.

Like most parents, my first instinct is to make this pain disappear.  Let him know there are other fish in the sea.  Let him know that he probably wasn’t ever going to marry her anyway.  Maybe give this girl some seriously dirty looks next time I see her.  Doesn’t she know he’s shy and a little socially awkward to begin with!  How could she?

Wait a minute.  What the Hell am I thinking!

It’s too painful to watch your beloved child get his head handed to him by life’s realities.  He got kicked in the teeth.  I ache for him, and there is nothing I can do.  In fact, maybe the best thing I can do is just let him lick his wounds, and tell him that his family loves him.  So hard to see him in pain.  But all parents go through this at some point?

A close second on the pain meter is the dredging up of old memories.  Yep, I remember getting the phone call from a friend of a boy I went out with for a whole month.  With 20/20 hindsight (and a number of decades behind me), I can’t believe I ever wasted a tear on this guy.  However, at the time, I was bereft, even though I also knew it was pretty cowardly to not break up with me in person.  

I remember vividly some (bratty) 3 year old girl who wouldn’t let my other son play in the group she was in.  Oh that little dejected face he had when he walked away!  (This girl’s mom insisted on raising a “strong” girl who didn’t put up with anything. Manners didn’t count, but that’s for another post!)  Anyway……..  it broke my heart.  Maybe a mother’s heart is bound to be broken over and over again.

Oh, and all the rejection I’ve dealt with sucks.  Let me count the ways….

Do you see where I’m going with this?  WE as parents can’t stand the fact that our kids have to withstand pain.  WE get reminded of our past painful memories that we’re not over yet.  WE are the ones who can’t take the double whammy of pain. We just can’t. So because it’s too hard for US, our first instinct is to protect our kids by putting them in a bubble.

Is this why parents rush to insulate their kids?  I believe it is.  

Case in point, my pet peeve – the “sports trophy”.  My kids stopped baseball and soccer in 2nd grade, so maybe it changes as you get older, but I could never understand why everyone got a trophy. Even back then, my kids knew it was bullshit to get a trophy if you didn’t win.  A certificate of participation, perhaps, but a trophy?  For coming in dead last? (Oh wait, do they even keep score, because if you lose, your psyche will be damaged?)

Another example is of a school play I watched a few years ago.  No kidding, in one performance there were THREE, count ’em, THREE different girls playing the lead!!  It was confusing to watch, but worse, I found out later that all three of them wanted to be the lead, so the teacher let them.   Are we that slavish to protecting our kid’s feelings that we’ll jump through hoops to that extent?  Apparently we are.

I am a professionally trained actress.  I pursued a career in the industry in high school and college. Here’s a tip….. it doesn’t work like that.  You think the casting directors will put me in a commercial because “I really want the lead”? hahahahahahahahahaha!  If I didn’t get the part, it was because either my acting stunk or I had the wrong “look”. Them’s the breaks! Guess, what? I got over it.

So, instead of recognizing these trials as a rite of passage, a learning experience and part of growing up, we do everything and anything to make sure our kids don’t feel pain. I really do get this now.  Truly.  I understand the desire to give out trophies to the also-rans.  

It makes us, the parent, feel better to reward mediocrity.  However, in the long run we are harming our kids.  Years go by and they fall to pieces when hit with adversity.  They have no resilience.  Wait until they get out into the real world, where instead of “oh, that’s OK, here’s a consolation prize for not getting your project done on time”.  It’s “You’re fired”.  What will they do then?  Besides moving back in with you and playing World of Warcraft in your basement for the next decade, that is.

Kids don’t want the consolation prize.  They don’t want to lose, but they don’t want the bullshit trophy either.  What does losing teach?  It teaches the world doesn’t end because we lose. It teaches that we are not failures as people, just at that particular activity.   It teaches that perhaps we should practice more so we get the lead/spot on the team/the trophy.  

My father saw me lose a Halloween costume contest when I was six- on a costume I designed myself.  I went as a box – an old washing machine box that I cut arm and head holes out, and added bows all over it.  To this day (he’s 75), he’s painfully reminded of the “injustice” of losing to a kid who’s mom sewed the costume.  Did he demand the rules be changed to only allow, or at least separate, the child-made from the mom-made from the store-bought?  No!  Did he have to find a way to deal with his feelings of his daughter’s dejection?  Yes!  Was I sad? Yes!  Did I get over it?  Yes!  Did I make a better costume the following year?  Yes!

It’s time we put on our big girl panties, empathize with our kids when they fail or get their feelings hurt, but for crying out loud, it’s time to let them out of the bubble!!!

Even if it kills us.  It’s our job.