Momma Addicts May Forget to Breathe
We need to breathe. Period. Let’s not forget that.
Sometimes in your attempt to support your child, you worry, an unhealthy amount, about their reactions to failure. Failure should be viewed as an opportunity to learn and grow and succeed in the future. But does failure need to be extremely public or potentially humiliating? I don’t think so.
I have closets full of stories of my personal failures, but many of them are hidden and few people know. Perhaps I was not prepared or perhaps I was not best suited for that position and needed time to rethink my strengths and assets. To be honest, many of my failures were not a complete surprise.
For instance, I merged my private practice briefly with another group who seemed to mesh well with me. There was full disclosure about the type of practice I ran and my patient population. However, within a couple of months, I knew an ugly impending failure was coming. It is like any relationship, you can tell if it fits very early on. A bad fit can be forced, but the end will still be the same. I tried to make the ugly merger a prettier one and tried to reinvent myself to be the person they wanted instead of the person they knew I was; nevertheless, six months into our relationship, they asked for a divorce.
I actually felt immediate relief because I stopped pretending that I could live by rules and expectations that were not initially expressed. “When one door closes another one opens.” I soon found a perfectly compatible group to join which allowed me to thrive under their umbrella. (Shout out to ENT of Georgia!).
So clearly, I understand failure will happen throughout life, and I needed to teach my girls how to handle it. But I developed high anxiety at the prospects of them failing in an ugly, public way that could lead to permanent harm and inner scarring. Imagine a performing child who gets stage fright and starts crying or falls to the deepest levels of fear and wets his/her pants. These events can be extremely difficult to move past, and I wasn’t having it!
I don’t know exactly when my fear of them publicly failing actually started, but I recall when my oldest daughter was in preschool and had to recite several nursery rhymes for the parents and teachers, my anxiety was extremely high at that time. It did not matter that my younger daughter was only two years old, she was equally involved in learning the hand gestures and body swaying movements that accompanied “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Mary Had a little Lamb”. Both girls put on my homemade tinfoil headbands with lopsided stars, and dress rehearsals and practices in our home occurred nightly after dinner. My oldest daughter was ready.
Showtime. Classmate after classmate stood up in front of the parents and promptly forgot their lines. Some were happy and proudly made up lines, some looked to the teachers and parents for them to mouth the words to be repeated, while others simply cried and were ushered to the safety of their parent’s lap. I glanced at my daughter and could see anxiety overcoming her. Her previous confident stance was melting in front of my eyes!
What to do? Momma Addict (MA) to the rescue! I needed to prevent the pending crash and burn, so I pulled the teacher aside and asked if we could bring my younger daughter from the babies’ room to come and be with the older daughter. Yes, I received a puzzled look, but my request was granted.
In came the fearless two year old, and she proudly walked up to her sister and enjoyed the attention of standing with the big kids. My oldest daughter immediately stood tall and confidently once again. They both put on the now wrinkly, very lopsided foil headband with star and put on a rousing show! That moment just might have sealed my concern that despite hard work, kids can soak up the fear and sense of impending doom that other kids near them are showing, and it can set a trap that needed to be avoided at all costs.
It became a requirement that the entire family was involved in practices for each child’s performances. Countless oral presentations, dance performances, talent shows, and karate competitions later…the extreme hard work of practice nearly drove my girls insane. But in the end, they were pleased with their performances despite the last minute fears that did creep in. My girls learn to support each other which helped them get through.
Me? I never stopped gripping my purse and holding my breath. I don’t think I ever fully enjoyed a live presentation or performance. That is a regret I still have. I did not live in the moment but prayed for their success. I would catch it on the DVD that I purchased or that my husband recorded. But there was very little live experience enjoyment.
So, you might think this behavior was limited to grade school through high school activities. You would be wrong. But I wish it were true.
In 2014, my daughter put together a team of impressive young women who worked to design a mobile toilet for under-served people in the world and presented during a live, televised broadcast as she competed in the country’s largest college level invention competition: The Georgia Tech Inventure Prize.
I was a nervous wreck, nearly paralyzed by the fear of an ugly public, now televised, potential failure. Nevertheless, I cheerfully passed out a ridiculous number of my hand made posters and banners for the audience to wave to show team support.
Yes, my daughter’s team won, and it was an amazing experience…that I later watched on video because during the performance, I simply held my breath and squeezed my signs praying that there were no public ugly failures. I was numb and light-headed when they announced the winner. The audience was going wild; I instinctively stood up and took pictures…because that was my job, too. It was all a blur. People asked why I wasn’t crying. I was busy getting oxygen back to my brain.
In retrospect, I wish I could have experienced my children’s successes as they were happening. My breath holding was not helpful and served no purpose. The hard work and preparation had been done, and I needed to just let my girls shine and do what they had trained to do. The MA in me still felt there was going to be a last-minute call to duty, and I had to be ready to respond.
It was not a need to win or to be the best that drove me. It was the need to prevent catastrophic events that permanently leave scars and stop them from reaching for greatness in the future. Despite my best efforts, we still had some of these ugly failures. Simply mentioning certain events can bring a glazed look across my child’s eyes!
If this is you, breath holding and praying silently while your child performs, I urge you to put in the hard work in advance, and then let go and enjoy the moments while they are happening. You will thank me later. But for the record, is organizing the entire family to join in on presentation and performance rehearsals MA or nah?