One of the most difficult things as a parent is to watch your child unhappy. Your instinct is to rush in with soothing words and hugs, as you attempt to kiss his pain away. And this works fine when your child is small and the pain is external, and of course when mommy is this all-knowing person who can do magic! But then the scrapes and bruises of early childhood turn into bigger rejections and rebuffs – how can you protect your child from the hard knocks of life?
Recently, my high-school son came home from school very dejected. After all the practice he had put in, he was not chosen to be on his school’s team. He had put his heart into this sport – practising for several years, through the summer holidays and weekends, soldiering on. And it was not as if he was just not good enough for the team – he had missed the timings by a mere second. He had beaten the other boy each time during all earlier practices, but just this time he was second, and it made all the difference. Nothing I said in consolation made him feel better, because both of us knew that they were mere words. At the end of the day, all he knew was that though he had given it his all, and put his heart and soul into it, there was to be no prize at the end.
Most of his friends are those he made through the practice sessions, so now he is lonely too, as all of them are out practising for meets and he is not there with them. And I was taken aback at something he said to me, cutting me off when I was trying to console him – “Mom, this is sport – there are just two ways to go: the winners and the losers.”
A harsh lesson to learn early in life? This set me thinking – our instinct is to protect; but are we doing our kids a disfavour by trying to protect them from life? How do we create a safety net for them so that they are able to bounce back from whatever life throws at them? And how and when should we let go?