Why You Must Break Your Child’s Heart to Be a Good Parent

Dawn Bevier

If you let your children stay in their comfort zone, you’re not doing your job

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Photo by Aline Ponce on Pixabay

Today was a nightmare. A total nightmare.

My daughter was supposed to attend a virtual open house tonight at her school. This meant she would have to join a virtual meeting with her teacher (and possibly other classmates). This meant she would have to show her face and speak. This meant doing something that she, an introvert with extreme social anxiety, would find about as easy as college Calculus.

This open house was an initial challenge that would be replaced extremely soon by a more much emotionally draining test of mental fortitude.

Virtual school starts Monday, and being that I am also an introvert with a heaping helping of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I know that the daily virtual meets my daughter will have to attend will possibly be the biggest challenge of her thirteen-year-old life thus far.

It will mean facing her fears head-on. And I wanted to prepare her. Help her baby step her way into overcoming her insecurities.

So I demanded that she attend this online open house. The open house was only thirty minutes (5:30–6:00).

At five-thirty she used technology as her scapegoat. She didn’t know how to log on. She didn’t know how to work her camera or microphone. I helped her through that.

At five forty-five, she broke down into tears saying she was scared and she couldn’t do it.

Somehow morphing into a parent I had never been before, I told her that if she didn’t log on, I would take her phone for four days. And if you know anything about a teen’s connection to their phone, you know this is a consequence of earth-shattering proportions.

Yet still, she refused.

I assume part of this resistance was that she knew me, and she knew my soft-heartedness. She knew I had anxiety too. And I think she believed the similarity of our struggles would get her a free pass, that I would understand her problem and let her off the hook.

But I couldn’t. And I was brutal.

Five-fifty. Ten minutes left for my daughter to step up and take the leap into scary waters.

The threat of taking her phone wasn’t working, so I used all the other weapons in my arsenal. I threatened to call her teachers. I threatened to get on the meeting if she didn’t. And not only did I threaten that, but I also promised I would attend in my current attire of a see-through years old floral nightgown and comfy plaid pajamas.

I was mean. Stubborn. Dictatorial. And it hurt like hell.

I felt my heart start to beat a million miles a minute and tears well and drop like concrete blocks from my eyes. Still, I played Hitler.

This was my child, and all my life I had only wanted her to know she was that she was loved and accepted as she was. And here I was, refusing to let her receive the compassion she had always known from me.

But today meant I had to embrace a new form of parenting. Tough love. And I didn’t like it one bit.

But the stakes were high, so I had to rise to the occasion.

Five-fifty five. I issued my previous threats at maximum volume. I told her all she had to do was log on for five minutes and the phone was hers.

No go.

Five-fifty nine. One minute.

She wiped away her fears, took a deep breath, and clicked “Join Meeting.”

She was literally on for one minute. Sixty seconds.

But she had learned a lesson. And I had learned a lesson too.

In that one minute, she faced her fears. And in that one minute, I faced my own as well.

I faced my own fear of assuming the role of a strong parent because before, I had always committed myself to being the “loving friend.”

This experience taught me that love sometimes requires adding pressure, pushing your child out of the airplane to show him or her that they can fly.

And if you’re a “loving parent” like me, let me warn you. They will not appreciate your efforts.

They will scream that you are cruel and unfeeling. They will say those words you never want to hear as a parent: “I hate you.” They will wound you so badly that you begin to hate yourself for your inability to yield to their desires, to give them the immediate comfort that they desire.

After the drama of the “forced flight” was over, I sat my daughter down, rewarded her with her phone, and explained that I loved her more than anything. I told her that it was okay to be an introvert and that it was okay to be scared.

But I also told her it was not okay to stay safely in the plane when your life and future happiness depended on jumping.

Within those excruciating thirty minutes, I realized that to be a good parent, I have to be willing to make my child shed tears.

I have to be willing to hear them say “I hate you” if it helps them become stronger human beings who will one day see their dreams realized. I have to push them out of the safety of the plane again and again until they jump out on their own.

It’s been an hour. The tears have dried and I feel better for the drama.

Because on Monday, when I am away from home and my daughter has to log in to that virtual meet, she will have done a practice flight. Even if it was a practice flight from hell.

And she will feel a gentler thudding in her heart instead of a pounding so loud that it paralyzes her.

She will have learned that she can jump out of the plane when her dreams are at stake and that leaping is really the only way to begin to fly.

And I will be okay with being hated. Because one day I know she will thank me.

And even if she doesn’t, it will still have been worth it to see her blaze through the heavens with wings made stronger by my refusal to let her keep her feet on the ground.

The bottom line:

Parenting is often a tug of war between the love we have for our children and the pain we know we must make them endure to eventually live the lives they dream of.

We must be prepared for the pain. And we must continually remind ourselves that we must couple the overwhelming love we feel with our children with a determination to help them see past their fears and self-imposed limitations.

Quite simply, I want my child to fly. And I know you do too.

And it’s our job to teach our children how to take to the skies, open their parachute, and realize they are capable of more than just flying. They are capable of soaring, and of all the happiness and exhilaration that comes along with floating through the heavens, experiencing life as it should be experienced: with belief, with hope, and with ecstasy.

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Sanford, NC
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