The Family Therapist is In
Sometimes You Just Need to be There
January, 2005 - Issue #4
The toughest times as a parent are the times when you can't change it, fix it or make it better for your child. You can only be there beside them and love them through. A crucial part of growing up is learning how to deal with adversity. No one talks about how it's also a crucial part of parenting. Learning how to be there and how to let your child go through the tough times is probably the most difficult lessons for a parent. Most parents I talk with feel that they've failed if they can't fix things or make them better when their children are struggling or hurting.

I teach a lot of parenting classes and thought I had these skills under my belt until one cold, damp Friday evening in the end of November. I'm a football mom; my son has played the sport all four years in high school. He loves the game. His team's last game of the season was a loss, which in and of itself is a manageable casualty of high school football. What took me off guard and stripped away everything I thought I had learned was watching my son deal with the realization that high school football was finished for him. As I was standing on the sideline, looking across the green turf, trying to find my player in the mass of giant helmeted bodies, it hit me hard that I was a parenting-class hypocrite.

I found my son and gave him a big hug. I saw the emotion on his face and realized he was struggling with the ending of something that had been such a familiar part of his (and our) daily routine from April to November for the past four years. I couldn't fix it, couldn't make it better, didn't even have the words to try. Oh, sure, I probably could have come up with some inane comments about looking forward to the possibility of playing college football, but all I did was stand on that brightly lit football field in the late evening mistiness and hold on to him. I wanted to make it better, but it wasn't what he needed. It suddenly dawned on me that my job was to stand there, hold on to him and let him work it through.

It was the process that started that night and my part was letting it happen. I know it's one of the toughest evenings I've spent in a long time, and without a doubt the most rewarding as a parent. Sounds funny, huh? I know, it doesn't make sense - however the next morning my son got up and went to breakfast with a bunch of his football buddies. He rolled out of bed, threw on a hat, smiled a sleepy "I'll brush my teeth later" smile and went off to eat. I knew at that moment he was going to be okay. He'd talk about the game, maybe laugh, maybe even shed a few tears, and start the moving-on process. As for me, I'd go find my husband, shed a few tears, get a big hug and start the moving-on process as a parent.

Kim Schafer welcomes comments from readers. You can contact her via e-mail at
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