I recently saw a young teen publicly thank his parents on social media. It wasn’t a generic, thanks-for-all-that-you-do, kind of post. This one stopped me in my tracks. This specific nod to the parents was, “Thank you for giving me everything I want.”
At first I thought maybe this was a status symbol of sorts, enjoyed by everyone involved with giving this child everything he wanted. I guess, maybe, if a parent gives a child everything he or she wants, somehow that raises their status?
My husband and I are less concerned with status, and more concerned with raising kind, happy kids who will hopefully grow up to be emotionally resilient adults. That’s probably why this post stood out to me. Neither of us want to give our kids everything they want.
Our kids are talented swimmers. Our daughter is not only talented, she’s also a very hard worker. She’s willing to practice as much as she needs to remain a strong competitor as well as a valued member of her team. As a middle schooler, she sets personal goals and works hard to reach them.
Adults Make Mistakes, Too
This season, her goal was to swim the individual medley (IM). This is a tough race – 100 yards, 1 lap of each stroke, a total of 4 laps. Her goal was to swim it competitively in under 2 minutes. After a few weeks of practice, she swam it and exceeded her goal. Next, she set her sights on the championship meet at the end of the month. Before that though, she wanted one more race experience so she requested her coaches pace her in the IM for the next meet.
The day arrived for the meet placements and she was left out of the IM. She looked a bit worried, so I encouraged her to talk with her coaches. She did and to her dismay, she was, in fact, left out of the race. I asked her coaches if she could be added to the race, but it was too late. She held back tears but forged ahead and jumped into the pool for practice.
It was a mistake. Her coaches are human and they make mistakes.
Her disappointment was compounded for several reasons. Her biggest competition was not going to be at this next meet, giving her a strong possibility of winning the race. Her best friend was going to be there and she wanted one more race experience before the championship meet. She folded under the layers of disappointment and began to cry as soon as we got into the car.
I could have made a phone call. My husband and I could have made unreasonable requests. I probably could have called the board of directors and caused a scene to get my child added back into the race she so desperately wanted to swim. We could have caused people to do a lot of extra work to make our child happy. I could have gone to extreme lengths to give my child everything she wanted.
But how in the world can we expect our children to learn how to deal with complex emotions if we never allow them to experience them?
My husband and I could have made unreasonable requests to relieve our daughter from feeling complex emotions but would that have served her in the long run? We all have to learn how to deal with disappointment. We have to learn to accept the fact that people we love and admire make mistakes. We have to learn that not everything in life goes our way.
The one thing I hope my kids never thank me for — giving them everything they want. It’s not our job as parents to keep our kids from struggling, it’s our job to give our kids the tools to properly deal with the struggle.
After allowing her time to be sad and disappointed, we talked with our daughter about what she ultimately wanted. We couldn’t change the circumstances, but we could help her explore what she could personally get out of the situation. What would it take to get a positive outcome from this experience?
We talked with her coaches and after giving it some thought, she agreed to swim the event as an unofficial swimmer. That meant, her times wouldn’t count and she wouldn’t score any points. She couldn’t officially win, even if she technically did but she’d still get the opportunity to have another race experience.
It wasn’t everything she wanted.
But she was able to see the upside. She was able to accept the reality, but find a positive opportunity in the situation. She didn’t throw away an entire experience because it wasn’t everything she wanted.
Of all the emotions we have, happy is easy. Our kids don’t need to practice being happy. They don’t need to be prepared to face happy. They need to be prepared to face disappointment, sadness, and anger. They need experience in extending the same grace to others that they would want in return. They need to practice accepting situations for that what they are without us swooping in.
I hope my kids are grateful for all of the things we do for them, but more importantly I hope that they are thankful for the things that we didn’t do.
Melanie Forstall Lemoine is a full-time mother, full-time wife, full-time teacher, and never-enough-time blogger at Melanie Forstall – Stories of Life, Love, and Mothering. She holds a doctorate in education and yet those many years of education have proved to be useless when it comes to real-life mothering. She lives in Baton Rouge and makes herself laugh on Facebook and Instagram.