US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Don't be your child's rescue squad

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A couple years ago, when Jon’s daughter tried out for the local club soccer team, she was placed on the B team. “Kayla had been the star of her rec team the year before,” Jon says. “My wife and I thought this was a huge miss on the club’s part.” Jon knew the club’s director and called him to ask that Kayla be given a chance to play on the A team. Feeling pressured, the director did as Jon asked, and Kayla landed on the A squad. 
Now, looking back on the season, Jon feels that he made a poor decision asking to have his daughter moved. “She was by far the weakest player on the A team, as much as I didn’t want to admit it,” Jon says. “She felt a lot of pressure because the other girls knew she wasn’t supposed to be there, and her confidence suffered. The club was probably right originally.”
Heather, a member of a Catholic high school administration team and mother of five, says that parenting a child when things go wrong is a difficult task for many parents. “I have seen some parents do a disservice to their children,” she says. “When parents intervene because they don’t want any wrong thing to happen to their child, they end  three messages—that things can never go wrong, that having any feelings besides those of accomplishment and happiness is a bad thing, and that their parents don’t trust them to muddle through messy times.”
Heather’s years of experience have given her insights in how to respond to both her students and her own children when things go wrong. 
“What I have learned is that the most valuable thing a parent can do for a child is to let the child truly feel the scope of the emotional response when something goes wrong,” she says. “I have observed that when I acknowledge with my child the disappointment, regret, hurt, anger, frustration, etc., I send a message that it’s OK to feel those emotions. There is nothing shameful about being frustrated or hurt; there is nothing ‘bad’ with feeling angry or regretful. These are all normal human emotions that make us feel a certain way—maybe very sad and lost. 
“Then, after we talk about the feeling itself, we talk about choosing our reaction to the feeling, about what we will do with the feeling, not just being a victim of the feeling. I have helped my children and students pray for healing if they are feeling sad, or pray for enlightenment if they are feeling frustrated. 
“I ask a lot of questions, let the child talk, and then just listen. I don’t make pronouncements. I don’t provide answers. I don’t brush it off as no big deal. I just sit with them and allow them to feel the feeling and listen as they begin to formulate their choice of response to the feeling.”
Heather says she feels fortunate as a mother to be able to learn from the many parents she comes in contact with over the course of a school year. 
“I have seen parents who let their kids feel messy feelings and experience things going wrong, and I end up seeing resilient, self-confident kids who aren’t afraid of complex feelings. I have seen parents who protect their kids from any messy feeling or experience of things going wrong, and I end up seeing anxious, self-doubting kids who won’t take a risk for fear of failure,” she says. 
Parenting during difficult times can become even more complicated when the trouble is serious and doesn’t belong directly to the child. Maureen, also a mother of five, said that when a relative fell ill, 11-year-old Thomas took it very hard. “He was beside himself with worry. He developed eating and sleeping problems, as well as a nervous twitch. He seemed to think about it 24/7, alternating between sadness and anger,” Maureen says. 
“When I went in his room to tuck him into bed each night, in addition to regular prayers, we started a novena to St. Rita of Cascia, the patron saint of impossible cases and sickness. We discussed St. Rita’s patient and faithful devotion to God despite her difficult life. We also talked about aligning our suffering (worry) with Jesus’ suffering on the cross. Though our relative is still very sick, Thomas seems to be accepting the situation better and does not seem as sad and angry.”
This article originally appeared in At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications' family spirituality newsletter, in May 2014.
Image: Flickr cc via USAG- Humphreys
Thursday, September 17, 2015