Have you ever watched an overprotective parent who prevented their child from ever facing any pain?
Unfortunately it is far too common, more than we think at first glance. If your young child is on a sports team, you may even be participating in this “pain free” lifestyle. Think about this: at the end of the last season, the one in which your child’s team didn’t fare so well, did they still have a team party at the end of the season? Probably so. The parents enjoyed getting to know one another, sitting in the stands together, and cheering each other on to victory, or defeat. There was probably a swimming pool party or BBQ so that everyone could get together one last time.
But then you got to the “pain free” part. That’s when the coach or team mother handed out trophies to everyone. Giving them to only the most improved player or the most valuable player wasn’t “fair” for the others. You didn’t want anyone to go home feeling left out, so you chipped in the $10 to make sure your child had a trophy, too. I know this because I, too, have participated in this event more than once.
But is a pain free life really in the best interest of our children in the long term?
My sons aren’t so small anymore. One of them has become quite a skilled beef cattle producer. He has been actively involved in 4-H for years, yet he has never once won a beef class. Where he really shines is in production. He works very hard to breed cattle that will give the best possible offspring, giving the buyer a really tasty steak in the end. Other than a sizable bank account, he has not been rewarded with the blue ribbon for his efforts.
Many times I watched my son lead his calf into the show ring. He looked good, he stood tall, he was proud of the animal he showed. He knew all the answers to the questions the judge would ask. But he never won. Yes, I was angry sometimes. Being a typical mama bear, I wanted my son to be treated fairly and rewarded for his hard work. Little did I know that he was handling the situation far better than I was. Nor did I realize that he was learning the lessons he would need for the rest of his life.
This morning my son, as is typical, got up early and went outside to check our cows. About an hour later he walked back in and told me that our new calf had died last night. Apparently there was a problem with the mother cow’s milk production and the baby wasn’t getting enough nourishment. Sadly, this is the third calf that this cow has lost in as many years.
I know how much effort my son has put into this cow. He was very careful when he selected the bull to which she would be bred (we artificially inseminate to breed) and made certain that the offspring would be small and grow quickly by using the genetics charts involved. He watched the mama cow like a hawk during her pregnancy to make certain that she was comfortable, well fed, and healthy. He was there when she delivered the calf in case there was any complication. A week later, we thought we had a viable healthy calf, until she died last night.
It broke my heart when my son told me this. I’m not an animal rights activist and I certainly don’t place the value of the life of an animal on the same level as a human, but I was still sad that we had lost the calf. What I didn’t expect were the words my son said when I expressed my sorrow.
“Mom, it’s okay. Cows die. I’ve already called dad and we’ve decided what to do.” I could see the disappointment on his face, but he had moved on to the next thing. He was so mature about it. It made me so proud! This child has learned how to face disappointment head on.
I really shouldn’t be surprised. He has been trying to reach a major goal for nearly a year. After two disappointing failures, he planned a course of action, sought help from someone with the necessary skills, and invested money into it. Last week, not only did he reach the goal, but he surpassed it, nearly doubling his prior achievements!
Granted, he will not be able to have this type of control over every situation, but when he encounters a disappointment or loss, I have no doubt that this young man will be just fine. Permitting our children to feel the pain, loss, and disappointment when they come on a smaller scale will help to prepare them for the bigger situations when they are older. When we protect them from this and just give them the trophy anyway, we do them a disservice. What will they do as an adult when faced with loss? How will they respond when they lose a job or get dumped by a girlfriend?
Good parenting is painful, but the long term rewards are priceless.