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.