The Character Movement

Get back in the game!

By Joe Cavanaugh

I never had the privilege of meeting my father-in-law, Don Leyden, but my wife Jane, her siblings and my mother-in-law often share stories of his life and parenting. He would often say to his four children after they experienced failure or adversity, “Pick up your mitt and get back in the game.”

Adults have a moral responsibility to protect young people if it involves their physical, spiritual or psychological safety and well-being. Yet, my job is not to prevent Tess from falling off the monkey bars at the playground. My job as a dad is to help her land safely so she can get up again. It’s a subtle, yet powerful, difference.

A Youth Frontiers colleague once told me a story about watching a mom with her second-grade boy at a rock-climbing wall. My colleague was the belay instructor coaching the boy as he began to climb the rock wall. The mom insisted on being next to her son, telling him which foot to put where and where to put his hands. She even would grab his foot to set it on the right place. The boy was struggling and this made the mom even more helpful. After five minutes and three feet up on the wall, the boy gave the sign that he wanted to come down. The mom held him as he climbed down the three feet. Each time my colleague tried to encourage the boy to keep going, she would block his view or talk over him.

I hear this story and want to loudly whisper, “Let the kid climb the wall!”

But, I also can relate to the mom’s desire to protect her child.

A number of years ago, I watched an older girl in our neighborhood leave Tess out of a game. It was mean and the way this girl talked to Tess was awful. My inclination was to step in and solve the “issue.”

Instead, I talked to Tess about how it felt to be left out and then challenged her to never make others feel that way. We talked about whether or not this older girl was really someone that Tess should look up to or want to be included by.

My hope is that: 1) Tess is slowly learning that she doesn’t need to have everyone include her; 2) Tess sees that her parents won’t solve problems on the playground; and 3) that Tess felt safe to talk, cry and learn a painful life lesson without anyone trying to fix it for her. She will always know that I will be there to hold her, listen to her and guide her in situations she faces – whether in a middle school lunchroom, a high school dance or when she gets turned down for a job.

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