Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Age-Appropriate Disappointment

I am a cheer mom. It’s official. Last week, Molly tried out for 8th grade cheer at her middle school and secured a spot, one of 16 girls. Though her two closest buddies also made the squad, two of her other friends did not. That’s been a hard pill to swallow.

To avoid an awkward chance meeting later on with their moms, I called both women. I couldn’t reach one and left a message. The other mom and I talked for about 20 minutes. Through the course of that conversation, all the feelings I had when Charlie, my oldest son, got cut—first from the baseball team his freshman year, then the basketball team his sophomore year—came rushing back.

Both times I felt so helpless. The unwritten job description of motherhood contains a clause emphasizing the importance of our being there to support our children. So what did it say about me that Charlie got over his disappointment light years faster than I did? I alternated between anger towards coaches for failing to recognize the intangibles my son brought to the respective games of high school baseball and basketball—things like character, integrity, humility, a strong work ethic, heart. Sure, he might not have been the biggest or flashiest, but he’d run through a wall for his coaches, his teammates.

The principle that finally brought me solace was that our children must endure age-appropriate disappointments in order to be prepared for life. Hovering, helicopter parents do their kids no favors by shielding them from every bad thing that could ever happen. If a child leaves home—the safe nest where he’s dwelt unscathed for 18 years—and faces life’s challenges for the first time, he’ll be ill-equipped to handle frustration, disappointment, failure.

As hard as it is on them—and on us as moms—we must allow our children the freedom to fail, to not make the team, to suffer the repercussions of doing less than their best. For it is only through facing such experiences at 6, 11, 15, and 19 that they grow, understand life challenges, and mature.

In a very awkward manner, I tried to console the mom with these thoughts. She said she appreciated my words, said it sounded like I really understood.

Because I did.