The end of the school year is upon us. This means end-of-the-year parties, teacher gifts, graduation parties, and award ceremonies.
Unless, of course, your child doesn’t win an award.
Last night as my children slept and my husband and I caught up on Sherlock (the newest is finally on Netflix, people!), I started seeing the Facebook posts from the parents of kids who DID win awards. My boys’ teachers standing with other classmates, certificates in hand. Parents with proud smiles.
And me at home in my pajamas.
I’ve never thought of myself as one of Those Parents. The parent who cares about who wins the soccer games or got straight As (or not) or the first-place ribbons. The parent who thinks EVERY kid deserves an award just for showing up.
I’m the Chill Parent. I’m Low Key. My kids run through the backyard with no pants on and we’re all okay. They eat food off the floor sometimes and it’s just building immunities. We intentionally decide not to run the crazy race of getting kids involve in sports before middle school. So of course I’m not going to care about silly awards.
UNTIL I DO.
I’m often really surprised as a parent by the emotions that overcome me as a parent. They are often irrational. They are crazy intense. They are not feelings I ever thought I would have.
I thought they wouldn’t happen to me. And then I find yourself giving the side-eye to a kid who shoves my daughter on the playground.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME?!
This is something I wonder sometimes. Because parenting really has done a number on me. I cry about things now. (This from the girl who used to cry once a year. Twice tops.) Scary movies scare me. I play only in parks with fences and gates. I LIKE CHILDREN. Well, MY children. Maybe some of yours too.
I never thought I’d care that my kids didn’t win any awards this year. Maybe because all along, I assumed they WOULD win awards. Last year Sawyer won two. Or three. And we sat there beaming and clapping and taking blurry iPhone photos from a distance, like all the other parents. So of course I didn’t think I cared if my kids had won anything or not. Because they WON.
And this year, I sat wrestling with disappointment and feeling embarrassed about the fact that I really DO care. It felt crappy to sit at home and see my boys’ friends with their awards. It also felt bad when the boys asked why they weren’t going to the award ceremony tonight. (It was invite-only for the winners.)
Here’s the thing: if my kids didn’t deserve awards, they shouldn’t get awards. If they didn’t make honor roll, they don’t get an honor roll certificate. Both have had struggles this year with behavior at differing points and to differing degrees. I get it.
So I wrestled with my own disappointment and feeling like this was unfair. The INJUSTICE of it. And how to explain it to my kids in a way that let them know that we don’t always get awards in life, especially if we don’t earn them. (We’ll save the talk for the people winning undeservedly for later.) And how to let them know that I’m still proud of them, even if they don’t win awards, even though inside I just felt awful about it.
Here’s what I know: my kids didn’t have straight A years. They didn’t always have great behavior reports. Their teachers didn’t think they deserved awards. Okay.
Here’s what else I know: Lincoln will say that one of his BFFs is the boy who has special needs in his class. At the beginning of the year, his teacher said that Lincoln would help bring him his pencils and liked to make him laugh. He LOVES this boy without caring that he’s different. There’s no certificate for that.
The reality is this: our kids won’t always win awards. They definitely don’t always deserve awards. Sometimes they are selfish turkeys, like every kid I know.
But as their mom, I have that nonsensical love that burns whether they deserve it or not. I know from watching my friends whose children are teenagers or older that it will burn harder and ache more as they get older and have bigger issues. I ain’t seen nothing yet. Apparently.
So when they don’t win the awards and when the girl they love doesn’t love them back and when they are made fun of or when I get the call they have made fun of someone else, I’m going to ache with them and for them. That irrational parental protectiveness is going to rise up like some wild dog in me.
The rest of my life may be a struggle to beat down that wild dog, the ferocious parent love that cares when your kids don’t win awards they didn’t deserve. Or any other number of small or large things.
So yesterday I took the boys to Toys R Us. I let them spend the money they earned weeding the patio and did not give in when they asked for more money.
When they asked about the award ceremony, I told them that they didn’t win any awards, but I was still proud of them. I loved them very much and always would, award or no award. I praised them when they treated each other with unusual kindness on the way into the store. (Parenting truth: kids will never treat each other so well as when they are about to get new toys.) I told them each something that was award-worthy to ME.
We all want our kids to win awards. We all want them to be loved, be accepted. We may have different dreams for our different kids, but we want the best things for them. And when our kids get hurt or fail or don’t achieve what they hope or we hoped, we will struggle.
We are going to be disappointed. THEY are going to be disappointed.
Sometimes it’s really going to just feel terrible to be a parent.
And our job is to beat down that wild dog of love so that we can help them understand that life isn’t always fair. That we should work hard even when sometimes the person who cuts corners gets to the finish line first. It’s our job to help them deal with disappointment, as we deal with it ourselves.
We will always burn with that ferocious love because our children are ours. We see the best in them. We see the hidden things that no one else sees. We also see the worst of them and we should not ignore that. We can pray for that and we can help them to develop great character and to deal in a right way with their weaknesses.
Man oh man is this hard when your kid didn’t win the award.
This parenting stuff is not for the weak of heart. It’s for those of us who are ready to contend with the wild dogs that sometimes are our children, and sometimes are the fighting love within us. We need to learn to deal with our own disappointments, to love our kids hard but not be blind to their faults. We need to model it and teach it.
Most of all, we need to love our kids well regardless of awards won or deserved and help them develop character that grapples with their faults.
People talked about the difficulty of sleeplessness before kids. The cost financially. The challenge of day-in-and-day-out parenting. But I did not once read in a book about the heartache that comes from our love.
Have you struggled with this, whether about an award or something else? If you’ve got tips, share them in the comments. Because, boy— do we all need them.