Room To Feel Uncomfortable

My daughter headed to second grade today feeling very rotten about herself and I did little to make her feel better. You see the night before while she was supposed to be reading her book report book she did an epic job of wasting time by holding a massive pity party. Her behavior was ridiculous and once she came around she expressed great remorse for how she had behaved and the time that she had wasted. She chose to skip dinner and go read in her bed, buried under blankets. After a half hour I crawled up to the top bunk and snuggled with her as she read the final chapters of her book aloud to me. We talked about her choices, that it doesn’t make sense to be upset about the past because it is not something she can change, and that the best thing to do is move forward making better choices from what she had learned from her mistakes.

At breakfast this morning she still had to write her report (three sentences), illustrate her point, and review her spelling words. The morning was rushed and hectic and she was tardy for school, which made her little brother tardy. We walked her brother to his classroom and she apologized to his teacher, taking responsibility for her actions. She and I then walked hand in hand to her locker and while I didn’t say anything to make her feel better or dissipate the seriousness of her disrespecting her education, I gave her lots of hugs and let her know that I loved her.

“I feel ashamed of myself,” she said as she hung her head and fought tears.

“Here’s the thing, Buddy. I love you even when you mess up. You messed up. Now it is done with. Focus instead on having a great day at school. Your report was completed, you may or may not do well on your spelling test, and you learned your lesson. Mr. Teacher is still proud of you and I am still in your corner.”

“Have you ever done something like this?”

“For sure I have. You bet. And I know the only way to make it better is to feel rotten about it first.”

“I feel rotten.”

“Yep, that’s what growth feels like, Smalls. C’mon, I will walk you to class and let’s get ready to improve the rest of our day.” Her shoulders were still slumped and the sparkle had not yet returned to her eyes, but she knew that I loved her and that I would be there with a hug at the end of her school day.


I could have made everything easy for her, reading the book to her so that she would finish more quickly or writing an excuse note to her teacher. I could have told her it was no big deal, we’ll just turn it in Monday. I could have apologized to her for her feeling badly and asked what can be done to make it all better.

I’m just not an “Everybody gets a trophy!” kind of mom. I’m okay if my kids lose or are not awarded prizes for every little thing. I don’t feel an obligation to make sure my kids feel fabulous all of the time. That is a tv commercial, not real life. Life doesn’t come with a sweet soundtrack and sparkles and cupcake parties and limited hard decisions like what color lip gloss to wear. She is not a princess for whom every need and want will be catered to. That is what the media tells her about life as a girl. I have a different version, and it is one that involves this little girl respecting the potential of her mind.

Making it all better for her would sell her short and signal that I am not doing my job. It would also signal that I do not respect her. As her parent it is not my responsibility nor in her best interest to anesthetize the world for her. Of course I want to protect her from harm and provide her positive experiences, I just need her to recognize that sometimes positive experiences don’t feel great. They feel rotten.



  1. Perfect, as usual.

  2. I feel like you gave her the only trophy that matters, despite claiming to not be one of those moms. 🙂

  3. Wonderful! It’s very tempting to “give in” to the moment and see the sad faces but keeping the bigger picture in mind & preparing our kids by giving them tools to cope with the real world is much more helpful!!!

  4. There is absolutely no allowance for missing the bus in this house. Tardiness is not an option. I won’t push her to work if it’s going to cause a tantrum here, and that is not unusual. It is her responsibility to get it done, and if she can’t get over it and get it done, she’ll be doing it later, until it’s done, because it is expected that she will do it to the best of her ability. I have had this conversation with her teacher, as much of the homework assigned here requires parent participation. She will face the consequences at school and her teacher, who is completely awesome, will know that it was her choice not to do it. I won’t do the work for her and I won’t fight her on it. And this choice makes bedtime, and getting up in the morning, much more relaxed for both of us.

  5. yes yes yes. And I’ve seen how empowering similar situations with my almost-6 year old have been. wonderful post as usual. I’m a long time reader but this is my first time to post, thank you so much for what you do, you have no idea how great it is to have someone to articulate these issues so eloquently, you do so many people a big favour x

  6. I may be taking this a little too far but . . .

    We have friends who believe in this philosophy. For me (and them), it’s more than being a parent who feels that “everyone should get a trophy”, it’s about not fixing everything for our kids (or doing everything for them) so that they learn how to navigate life on their own. It’s about understanding that to truly change a pattern of negative behaviour, it often has to hurt too much to keep repeating that behaviour than it does to make the change.

    By not allowing our children to fail, to learn from their mistakes, and to solve their problems on their own, we’re raising a generation of people who feel everything should be handed to them on a silver platter. And I see this EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. at work (I work in recreation and employ primarily youth and young adults). It’s so disheartening.

    These friends of ours had their children removed from them by that horribly corrupt organization that supposedly protects kids, because the ex-husband and the organization felt that by teaching their children how to navigate life’s pitfalls on their own, then expecting that the children actually do the work once they’ve been taught how, the parents are being abusive.

    We’ve swung the pendulum too far the other way and now want to protect our kids from anything and everything that causes them pain. It’s such a disservice to them – who will protect them from that pain when they’re an adult and they fail, as we all do? Suffering is redemptive, even for a child!

    Great post!!!

  7. Right on ! Reminds me of when I told my middle son that last was an important place, as important as first. You see without last place there would be no first and no reason to keeping trying to get better. This happened during the first year that my son started dirt bike racing.Yes he felt bad but he got much , much better and has the trophys to prove it. By the way he is 40 and now a firefighter.Children today just don’t seem to be able to cope with the ups and downs of life. Their parents are too busy trying to mske everything perfect. So sad.

  8. I have reacted in similar ways when it comes to my children. I believe it’s the only way to show them that they’re responsible for their own actions, which is not just a valuable lesson in life but also empowers them to do GOOD with their actions. A trophy for everyone doesn’t empower kids. It belittles them by underestimating their ability to weather the little and big losses in life. Three cheers for you!

  9. “I could have apologized to her for her feeling badly”

    Parents who apologize to their child for the child feeling remorse about something the child did suck.

    • Tanya –
      I don’t think they “suck”, I think they love their child intensely and don’t want their child to hurt. It is the most painful thing that a parent can endure, to see your child in pain and know they have to go through it, that there is nothing you can do. I think more parents need to understand their child does not need to be rescued, that sometimes life is supposed to be uncomfortable. They’ll probably come to that conclusion faster if we support them instead of telling them they suck.

      • I say sorry to my kids a lot.

        “I’m sorry you fell down, that would have hurt.”
        “I’m sorry you feel angry! It’s ok to feel angry, but would you like a hug?”
        “I’m sorry your sister stole your horse, that would have been really annoying!”

        I’m not apologising for my actions, nor theirs – I’m commiserating. And, like a kind mourner who tells a bereaved family “I am sorry for your loss”, I neither taking blame nor responsibility. I’m just showing that I am there, and I care. They still get all the consequences, they still feel all the pain, but they have someone standing beside them. I don’t think that sucks.

  10. Bob marcus says:

    Great dialogue; keep it up!

  11. Makes perfect sense, and it sounds like your daughter is really benefiting from learning to feel bad about her own behavior, reflecting on it, and deciding to change it in the future. Very mature for a little kid! 🙂

  12. I can honestly say that by you doing this for your daughter… I’m positive that her teacher was praising you! This makes our (teachers) lives SO much easier. We try to do it everyday with our kids but it is SO much harder without parents in our corner!

  13. I wish my child’s teacher was this enlightened. I have gotten “in trouble” for not MAKING my daughter do more homework. I have been told that the other kids present much better show and share projects because I insist that she basically does them on her own (with cutting and pasting and drawing pictures), while other kids bring in power point presentations that their parents did for them. She’s 6 and in year one and I’m so over the parents being given homework.
    When she was falling behind (due to her being almost a year younger than most in her class and some things just not “clicking” for her) I was told, it’s because I don’t work hard enough with her – ugh!

    Sorry, rant over. I agree with you. You did a great job. You’re there for her unconditionally but you’re not belittling her by taking away all her responsibilities.

    As a side note, I have recently noticed that my children are so much better at getting ready in the mornings since I started telling them that I won’t keep hassling them anymore. They’re either ready in time and then they’ll be at school in time or they’re not ready and then they’ll be late and that will be their own fault and they will have to explain that to the teacher themselves. No more yelling at them in the mornings and they’re ready on time.

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