Mar 142014 4 Responses

Cheerleader Tryouts (or When Dreams Don’t Come True)

My favorite verse in Dr. Seuss’ book, Oh the Places You’ll Go, follows him talking about success. As he talks about the young person making his dreams come true, he says,

“Except when you don’t, because sometimes you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so but sadly it’s true, that bangups and hangups can happen to you.”

Anyone who has lived for some time knows the truth of this stanza. One of the guarantees of life is that it will not always go as you have planned. Even if you feel as though you were made for something, it may not happen. Even when you feel as though you have done your time or paid your dues, you may not get what you think you deserve. Life will disappoint.

It’s hard to accept when our dreams don’t come true, but often times it is even harder to watch our children experience disappointment.

They dream of winning the championship, but they fall a play short.

They assume they will get the lead role, but they aren’t even in the supporting cast.

They want in the prestigious school, but the acceptance letter never comes.

Their boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with them before prom.

As a parent, what do you do when your child’s dreams do not come true. Here are 5 suggestions:

1. Don’t downplay their loss. Telling your child there are other fish in the sea or other tryouts to be had will not help the situation. Anytime we downplay the sorrow of another, we are actually adding to their pain. Telling someone they shouldn’t hurt is telling them that they are wrong for what they feel. They aren’t wrong. They have every right to feel hurt and disappointed. Allow them room to grieve. (See: Recognize Your Child’s Pain)

2. Rarely pull strings to get an outcome changed. Many parents are far too quick to confront a coach or teacher when their child experiences disappointment. While there are times in which a parent should step in, it should be rare. Even if a parent can change an outcome, it is often a more important parenting role to support your child through a disappointment than to prevent your child from experiencing disappointment. Many parents often make their child’s sorrow worse when they try to talk with an authority figure. Not only can it embarrass the child, but it often makes the child feel as though the outcome is extremely important to the parent making the child feel as though they have not only failed themselves but their parents as well. Concern yourself more with supporting your child through grief than preventing grief. (See: A Map for Navigating Life’s Disappointments)

3. Don’t smother them or abandon them. Knowing how much space a person needs is always difficult, but especially with our children. We can go wrong in two ways. Sometimes we smother them. We refuse to give them the space necessary to properly process sorrow. Sometimes we abandon them. We fail to show them they are supported and love. Our role should be to hit the middle ground. We want them to know we are there for them and give them opportunities to engage. But ultimately we are waiting on them to show they are ready to reconnect. (See: Always Suffer Together, Never Alone)

4. Strategically use other authority figures to assist children. Some truths can’t be fully communicated through the parent/child relationship. They can be spoken but not accepted. For these moments, we need to have friends we can call on who know our children well enough to speak to them as a parent, but not their parent. Grandparents, aunts/uncles, and friends can play a vital role in speaking truth to our children in a way that isn’t as threatening as when it comes from us.

5. Model appropriate ways to handle grief. Long before our children experience one of the great disappointments in life, they should have seen us handle it properly. At every moment our children are watching how we respond. If we blow up when our children disappoint us, they will assume that is how they should respond when life disappoints them. If we fail to communicate our emotions, they might assume it’s inappropriate to show feelings. When we model appropriate ways to handle grief, we are equipping our children with vital tools they will need for the rest of their lives. (See: Why You Should Never Yell at a Tee-Ball Umpire)

Everyone experiences disappointment. It is a guarantee of life. One of the defining aspects of who a person will become is not what disappointment they experience, but what ability they have to properly cope with disappointment. A parent’s role is to equip our children to fully experience sorrow without allowing one sorrow to define who they are.

For more, see:

What to Do When Life Falls Apart

7 Recommended Books for When Life Hurts

Walking with My Son Through the Death of His Grandfather

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4 Responses to Cheerleader Tryouts (or When Dreams Don’t Come True)
  1. dennyneff Reply

    Wise words. Our daughter teaches in elementary school and it’s amazing how many parents come in enraged at the teacher without knowing the rest of the story. We always wanted the best for our children, but we knew they were the ones to make it happen, with guidance from mom and dad. Thanks for sharing.

  2. […] I will not be able to fairly evaluate my children’s ability—ever. (See: Cheerleader Tryouts&... kevinathompson.com/child-isnt-good
  3. […] For more on the cheerleader illustration, see: Cheerleader Tryouts–when dreams don’t com... kevinathompson.com/consequences
  4. […] There are times in which it is best for me to save them from the hurts of the world. There are other... kevinathompson.com/dont-want-children-everything

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