What To Say Instead When You Can’t Say “There’s Always Next Year”

I was a senior in high school when I royally bombed an audition for an honors choir I’d gotten into as a sophomore and junior. I was doing too many other things at the time and should have gracefully bowed out before I tried to cram for it and ended up falling very ungracefully on my face in front of the judging panel. 

Mom remembers when she failed to get selected as a senior

When the letter came, the choir organizers gently informed me I hadn’t been selected. If I’d been anything other than a senior, they would have encouraged me to try again the next year. Instead, they noted somewhat painfully that my senior status ruled out trying again and made some conciliatory remarks about wishing me well in my future. (Where, no doubt, they hoped I would either prepare better or admit my overcommitments.)

My bomb was my own fault, but sometimes, through no fault of their own, our kids find themselves at the end of a road. Sometimes, they don’t know the end is coming. Sometimes, they’re jogging along, rounding a curve—and slam into a “road closed” sign.

When our underclassmen don’t make the team or get the part, we usually and rightfully console them with, “It’s okay…there’s always next year” or, “You can try again next time.”

But when there isn’t a next year or a next time—for any variety of expected or unexpected reasons—our kids need us to come through with a different brand of sympathy and comfort. They need us to help them look both back and forward.

When you can’t say “There’s always next year”

I’m so sorry. We offer this to someone when they’re grieving, which is exactly what’s going on here. Our end-of-the-road kids are in mourning. They are experiencing a death of sorts: the death of a dream or a passion or a goal or a do-over. We need to acknowledge their loss and let them feel it, because grief—whatever its origin—cannot be gone around, only through.

I’m so proud of what you’ve already done. The effort, the sacrifice, the risks, the learning, the team work, the commitment, the growth: all this counts. There is weight to it, and it calls for recognition. These are the prizes our kids have already earned for themselves.

Doing what you’ve loved in the past might look different in the future, but it can still be good. Many of the sports, arts, and activities our high schoolers or college students love have grown-up versions. Recreational leagues. Local theaters. Community choirs. At the right time, we can put these on the table—but with sensitivity to the fact that they will not be so much the continuation of a story as the start of a whole new book.

No one can take away what you’ve already gained. If there’s not a next year or a next time for an experience our big kids have loved, joy and satisfaction can be lost. If what is ending has been a source of friendship, connections can be lost. If a do-over isn’t in the cards, closure can be lost. 

But for all these very real losses, there are gains that are not wiped out. There are friendships, skills, accomplishments, lessons, and victories that become part of our kids’ permanent mental and emotional records.

Someday, your memories will be more happy than sad. In the deepest places of sorrow, remembering all the good times on the team or with the cast or in the band may bring our kids down. But after a while (and probably a shorter while than expected), those memories will lift them up. 

Do you want to try something new? Not as a replacement. Not just to add a comparable weight as if that will balance some scale. Not to forget what was lost. Instead, to gain something of worth in its own right. Maybe a brand-new sport, a whole different instrument, a place never visited before. 

I love you to no end. There’s always next year for that. (And next month, next week, and the very next second, for that matter.)

There was nothing to be done about my failed audition. I had to go to the performance and sing in the mass choir and watch the honors ensemble take the stage and know I’d never be up there again. It stung.

But I’ve used that experience and that story again and again with my own children, sometimes as a cautionary tale about getting overextended and sometimes as an example of how “Mom fell flat on her face but you don’t think she’s a loser, do you?” when they fall and are tempted to stamp “failure” on their resumes. 

There wasn’t a next year for that particular piece of my life. But there have been a lot of next years for other pieces, and they’ve added up to a whole that was worth putting together.

More to Read:

Dear High School Seniors and Families: We Are So Sorry

How To Worry Like A Mom And Still Keep Living Your Life

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She’s been married for 25 years to an exceedingly patient guy she picked up in church. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebookand Twitter

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