Moms

A Few Good Moms: Can you handle the truth about cheering from the sidelines?

Going to pre-school, riding the bus, buying lunch in the cafeteria, and navigating friendships are all times when parents must watch from the sidelines as their kids begin to make their way in the world.
Going to pre-school, riding the bus, buying lunch in the cafeteria, and navigating friendships are all times when parents must watch from the sidelines as their kids begin to make their way in the world. Getty Images

The mom looks outside and sees her son in the driveway shooting baskets. He has been at it for over two hours without a break. Tomorrow is the first day of try-outs for the school team and he really wants to play. The mom wonders if there is anything she can do to help make that happen.

You want the truth about cheering from the sidelines? I think you can handle it.

There comes a point in every child’s life when it is time to start leaving the nest. Unlike baby birds that get shoved out in one fell swoop, this manifests in many small ways over the course of time. Going to pre-school, riding the bus, buying lunch in the cafeteria, and navigating friendships are all times when parents must watch from the sidelines as their kids begin to make their way in the world. This is awesome and scary . . . and is a moment of truth.

I remember announcing way back in the day that I believed good parents have to let their kids learn how to deal with disappointment. Didn’t it make sense for kids to handle problems and challenges on their own? I was all Blessing of a Skinned Knee philosophizing that what I really wanted was to raise resilient kids. Let them fail, I pronounced breezily, while my completely dependent toddler played happily at my feet.

I was reminded of my early parenting mantra this summer with my middle-schooler. He had talked about the annual Ironman competition for weeks leading up to his time at camp; he’d changed to this particular session partly because of that event. He was so excited to participate. Then we received his letter with some “bad news”: Eighty kids wanted to take part in the race and there were only fifty bikes, so the camp would host time trials to determine who was allowed to compete.

The thought that he would not be able to do it at all, after his extensive anticipation and preparation, tortured me in ways that are not fully rational. It pained me to imagine his disappointment if he was not even allowed to try. Let them fail a snarky voice in my head blasted from my past. I mentally told her to shut the hell up while I fantasized about how to deliver a few dozen bikes to camp. I take it back, I take it back . . . I didn’t mean it! Just let him do it!

In the end, I did not sneak bikes to Falling Creek Camp, or call anyone to “chat” about the time trials, or insert myself in any way into this scene. Which made my son’s participation all the sweeter when he saw it through completely on his own. And made me a supportive mom – versus an inappropriate, psycho, meddling menace.

This experience was extremely rewarding for everyone involved. The pride I felt after my son handled his own deal was ten times stronger than the fear that underscored my instinct to interfere. When we choose to step aside parents can evolve, in small ways over time, just like our maturing kids. We can’t remain constantly front and center directing our kids’ lives as they grow up, but the truth is, the cheering section on the sidelines may be the best seat in the house.

Want to get a better handle on cheering from the sidelines? Watch The Goldbergs mom get it all wrong, listen to slam poet Anthony Amorim get real about growing up, and let the always optimistic Sue Heck from The Middle cheerfully demonstrate the power of resilience.

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