The Character Movement

Life is Hard

A few years ago, a father shared this story with me:

“My son set a goal of making the varsity soccer team as a sophomore. He worked with a personal trainer, went to all of the captain’s practices and worked out on his own.

The tryouts lasted a week and he spent almost every day practicing with the varsity team. He did not make the final cut and was devastated. Apparently, the coach had an unwritten rule that only juniors and seniors will make varsity. My son’s understanding was that if you set a goal and work hard then you will achieve your goal. I told him that I forgot to mention that people or systems can get in the way. The experience made him more determined and he made varsity his junior year.”

I felt bad for his son who worked so hard and ended up being disappointed. But what a wonderful gift the dad gave his son in teaching him a larger lesson: life isn’t always fair. Sometimes, a storm comes through and damages your house. Sometimes, disease strikes even though you have lived a healthy life. Sometimes, you will have a boss or supervisor who doesn’t recognize your hard work or who fails to see your potential. These things aren’t fair, but they happen.

At the same time, I think it’s important for parents not to fall into the mindset that life’s disappointments are always good for kids because they “toughen them up.” At Youth Frontiers, we’re in schools every day talking to kids about bullying and disrespect. Sometimes, we encounter parents who feel that a little bullying is no big deal, that the “school of hard knocks” has a lot to teach kids or that if we coddle kids too much, they won’t be ready for the “real world.”

A family or a school can go too far in trying to circumvent or eliminate the natural aches and pains of growing up. But at the same time, it’s also not wise to minimize or discount your child’s pain.

While talking to the father in the story above, I was impressed with the fact that the dad showed a lot of empathy for his son. He didn’t say, “That’s the way it is,” “tough luck” or “suck it up.” Nor did he call the coach and try to negotiate on his son’s behalf. Part of being a reflective parent is not having a knee-jerk reaction to our children’s struggles. We don’t want to shrug them off. We don’t want to overreact. What we want to do is to understand the truth of the moment. Then we can help guide our children through the process of understanding and accepting the truth so they can be more prepared for next time.

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