I Blew It

When the natural consequence of my behavior sidelines my kid.

Posted Aug 13, 2019

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

As a psychologist who works with parents, "natural consequences" often come up. Get out of the way and let the child experience the natural and logical consequence of their action. For example, if your child is not playing by the established rules in the neighborhood game, the group will let him know and most likely kick him out of the activity. Let it be. This lesson is best learned coming from the kids. Natural consequences teach responsibility and allow the child to learn the impact of their behavior.

This is true in parenting, marital relationships, friendships – in fact, just life. If you do X, then you can expect Y. If you don’t do your homework, you will get bad grades. If you never remember your friend’s birthday, she will not celebrate yours. If you treat your partner poorly, your marriage will suffer. You get the point. It is the unspoken rule of everyday interaction. 

It is often hard for parents to watch their child experience this, and they get sucked into intervening and disrupting the natural order. Much has been written about the impact of this – entitled kids, poor coping, lack of self-efficacy – so in parenting, it is crucial to resist the urge to intervene. 

But what do you do if you screw up as the parent and the natural consequence affects your kid?

Last Saturday, I was at a family dinner with friends and their children after a few summer weeks away for us all. We were excited to see each other and there was a lot to catch up on. A friend excitedly asked, “did the boys make travel soccer? My son did!”, assuming they had. The email went out that day. 

I said I had not seen it and promptly checked my phone. Nothing. My assumption was that they had not made the team, albeit disappointing, a natural consequence of needing to practice more and an opportunity to learn humility (which quite honestly, my youngest, little athlete could use). 

The dinner went on without any further mention. No big deal in my mind, although I was a little disappointed because my oldest son has a motor integration issue, played really well at both weekends of tryouts, and had a shot of making the team (especially since two friends at a similar level made it). He could really use the win. 

I saw another friend the next day and he mentioned that his son had not made the travel team but received the email he will be playing in the town league. Hmmm. Curious. I checked my email again – nothing, for either of my sons. Oh, CRAP!! Did I sign up properly?

I’d like to say that the process for signing up for travel soccer was confusing, but ultimately my kids not being placed on either team is a natural consequence of my parenting mishap. The details don’t matter, but I screwed this up for them. 

My boys came back from summer days away, showed up eager and ready, and played hard at both weekends of soccer tryouts. They did everything they were asked to do. They registered on site but were not registered online later, which impeded them from being evaluated. They did not make travel. I spoke to the head, and there was nothing to be done. CRAP!! Major parenting fail. CRAP!!!

I am not one to live in the world of Mom guilt. But, this one got me. This screw up will last a whole season for my kids – and might be the nail the coffin that ends my 5th grader’s willingness to play soccer. He is the one with the motor issue. UGH!! And now the town league has a waitlist?! 

I wish I could wrap this article with a magical ending, but unfortunately, it isn’t so. My kids remain on the waitlist. My heart sinks every time I think of this. And I have to trust that this is just one little patch in the whole quilt of their life. A silver lining exists somewhere although it is not yet clear. Although it feels huge right now, ultimately, this is not a game-changer in their whole trajectory. I hope. Maybe for my eldest’s soccer career. We shall see. But, he will be fine either way.

I approached this difficult conversation with my boys with honesty and humility  – I asked myself ‘what I would teach them had it been the natural consequence of their behavior.’ They handled it surprisingly well given how badly they wanted to make the team. I explained that I screwed this up for them, I felt horrible, and there was not much to be done, although I really wished it were different. We didn’t know if they made the team one way or the other because they were not on the list when all the evaluators met. 

I know my kids see me as successful. Most kids see their parents that way, and this is true for my boys. When I think about this, my hope is that they see the flawed humanity in me, giving them permission to be imperfect too. Things happen. We cause pain to each other at times, often unintentionally, and the goal is to name it, take responsibility, apologize,  talk about it, and move on. I am sorry guys - sorrier than you know.  

To all the parents out there, things like this happen to us all. You aren’t a bad parent (I keep reminding myself!), we aren’t perfect, and things go sideways sometimes – often impacting our children in big and small ways. Our intentions are almost always good, but we often can’t control the outcome.  That is the most important lesson for our children. 

There is learning in showing our kids how to handle failure. How we manage ourselves is ultimately internalized in them. See if there is a way to make it better, speak up, and sit with the natural consequence with grace and humility, knowing there are other opportunities around the corner. We have all been there – and I am here now.