Today my daughter was extremely disappointed when a friend she hadn’t seen in a while canceled our afternoon plans because she got sick. She got very quiet and then simply said, “I’m sad,” before going to her room. Now, we’ve had a tough year so this moment was not exactly heartbreaking, a minor blip in the grand scheme of things really. But still, she was sad and that made me a little sad as well. My immediate thought was to find some way to try to cheer her up; perhaps a pep talk about how we’d see her friend later in the week or a promise that the two of us would do something even more fun for the afternoon. I thought to myself, “I just want to make her feel better.”
That’s what moms always want to do- make our kids feel better. But the thought made me pause. How is it possible to make someone feel better? And really, even if it were possible would I want to try to make my kids feel anything? And if my role isn’t to make her feel better when she’s disappointed then, what is it? As my kids get older understanding my role becomes more difficult. When they were babies and toddlers it was easy (well, easier, it’s never easy) to know what I was supposed to do; now it’s more complicated.
After giving it some thought I realized that my role in these situations isn’t to be her cheerleader or to tell her what she should feel or that what she does feel is unimportant. My role is also not to indulge the idea that this is a horrible tragedy (because anything can be a horrible tragedy for a pre-teen girl). It’s simply to be supportive. To be there if she needs me, or to back off if that’s what she needs.
Instead of telling her not to be sad because we’d reschedule or trying to distract her with a fun activity I said, “I know you’re disappointed, I really hate it when something I’ve been looking forward to doesn’t work out. Is there anything I can do to help?” She thought about it for a moment and then smiled, saying I could reverse time to go back to the morning and make her friend unsick. I told her I’d pull out the magic wand and do just that. We laughed, I gave her a hug and then we went on with our day. I think she learned (or at least had reinforced) a couple of important things: 1) We don’t minimize our feelings. 2) We also don’t sweat the small stuff.
So, this is a new part of my ever evolving role; to encourage them to be more independent in solving their own problems but still acknowledging their experiences, being supportive and modeling good problem solving skills. Seems like it could get tricky…