“I realize today that nothing in the world is more distasteful to a
man than to take the path that leads to himself.” – Demian by Herman Hesse
I’ve discovered something. I’ve discovered that parents don’t like to see their kids upset. They don’t like to see their kids cry. They don’t like to see their kids sad. Of course this makes sense. Wanting our children to be happy makes sense. We love them and wish them more joyful times than angst. Of course childhood, and especially the teen years, are wrought with angst. Some parents recognize this. They can take a deep breath and embrace the 24-hour rule (waiting 24 hours after an incident before calling the coach) while others jump immediately into papa-bear or mama-bear mode. And, let me tell you, parents can be ferocious. Believe me, as a parent and a coach, I have been the ferocious one and I have been the one upon which the ferocity has been unleashed.
One afternoon, I was driving down the highway with my teenaged son on our way home from lacrosse tryouts. It was midweek. Two tryout days had already passed and he still had one more to go. My son was wiped, exhausted, disappointed and on the verge of tears. “I suck!” he cried, “I can’t catch anything. There’s no way I’m making this team!” The pain of tryouts. I’ve been on the other side. I’ve been the coach making the cuts, but until that week I had never been the parent of an athlete going through the tryout process.
My heart ached for my son. I wanted to tell him to quit. I wanted to convince him to persevere. I wanted him to talk to the coach (about what I have no idea!). I wanted to call the coach myself. What?! I am a coach! I can’t CALL the coach! And if I did, what the heck would I say?!? One thing I did realize however is that I did not like to see my son so distraught, I wanted to save him from his ninth grade anguish, I wanted to fix it for him, make it all go away.
And, then I realized there was nothing I could do. All he could do was “sit” in his upset and experience his emotions and nurse his own anguish.
And, as his mother, I chose to do nothing but quietly support him. I had no solution, no answers, I couldn’t wash away the sadness or the humiliation he was experiencing. I could only gently guide him through it. Then an image came to my mind, a simple one… we were sitting in a chair together. That’s it. We were just sitting in the sadness. Why? Because that is all we could do. And that’s the way it is in life. Oftentimes there is nothing we can do with teenage upset but to “sit in it” until it passes, until they have decided that it just doesn’t hurt as badly as it once did.
Parents often argue for their child’s weaknesses and limitations. What if we looked underneath the sadness to find out what’s there? Is there an opportunity for growth in the moment? Let me give you an example. Recently a parent called me at home after a game with “She was crying!” If this player was upset, SHE needed to make that call, not her parent. That was the growth opportunity. Missed. Another time a mom called to tell me that her daughter “was upset when she came home from practice.” I believed this athlete was not living up to her leadership capacity and I told her so. That was the opportunity to examine from within. Missed for the mom, fortunately not missed by the athlete.
I say, So what?!? What’s wrong with being upset? What’s wrong with crying? As Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, says, “We are not Dell Operating Systems, people! We are people, people.” And these emotions our kids express simply mean they care. They are not robots, they are humans and they have been given a breadth of emotions to explore, and eventually every single one of those emotions will show up in their life somewhere at some point.
Emotions are a reflection of our personal integrity. They reveal the places in our lives where we care deeply. They point to where we need to grow. We can’t always move away from what is upsetting. We can move though the emotion, process it, and allow the positive change to emerge. Discomfort leads to change which leads to a triumph in growth. Allow the emotion, even embrace it, try to understand it, then conquer it! Next time your kid comes home from practice or a game crying don’t run to call the coach… just sit in it with them. Just sit in it.