Parenting From The Wings: No Protective Bubble
There are times when I deserve to be lectured and certainly my parenting is not above reproach. As a matter of fact, if someone decides to list my parenting fails, I'm sure I could name more.
But the one thing I can't stand-OK, the one thing I can't stand the most at the moment-is someone telling me I have to stop protecting my daughter from failure. "Kids need to be allowed to fail and learn from it. They need to feel rejection, so they can handle it. You can't protect them from that in the real world."
My daughter is a theater kid. Sometimes she gets the part she wants. It is always "my dream role." It is always a cause for celebration.
But those days are few and far between.
She is a theater kid. She auditions for professional shows and doesn't get cast and for amateur theater groups and doesn't get the role she sought. She is a teen with Broadway dreams and an Instagram feed full of other young performers booking shows. We're not protecting her from failure or blowing smoke on every small accomplishment. More often, we must remind her that "failure" is this business. For everyone. One unsuccessful audition, missed line or cracked note is not a statement on her worth as a person or performer.
As it's an honor just to be nominated, it is an achievement just to audition. People mock participation trophies, but showing up is no small thing. Showing up is often the most difficult thing, as a matter of fact-especially when you are a kid and setting yourself up to be judged. In theater, showing up when your throat hurts or you have cramps, when you're worried about homework and friendships and everything else that's part of being a kid is not easy.
Walk into any one of the rehearsal studios in Manhattan and tell me that it isn't sometimes suffocating just being in these halls, air heavy with stress, anticipation, and unfulfilled dreams. I'm sitting in one right now, as a matter of fact, lucky enough to find a chair in a far off corner. (I have spent more than a few hours sitting on these floors.)
As parents we wait-a lot-for voice lessons and dance classes, auditions and rehearsals. And we wait for callbacks and cast lists. When they hear-those times that they hear anything at all-we often become consolers. The first heartbreak in our house can be blamed on two men who cast a production of Annie years ago. The tears. The sadness that lingered for weeks with self-doubt and a constant search for answers, reliving every moment for the misstep where it all went wrong. There was a great urge on my part to dismiss them as idiots who didn't deserve her. I did not, although I imagine the first teen boy to do similar damage will not be so lucky.
No matter how much you prep, as parents, we all just wing it in the moment. (Anybody have a map?) Sometimes there is dessert for dinner. Sometimes, we have to be the ones to say what they don't want to hear. Sometimes we learn it would have been best to just be quiet. It is exhausting, and it can be frustrating. It is always very dramatic. (Nature of the beast.)
You sometimes want to shout (and, on occasion, I have): "This is what acting is. This is theater. Rejection after rejection after rejection. If you can't handle it without a full breakdown every time, you can't do this anymore. We can't do this anymore."
But if we're honest with ourselves, we all know how it feels. We've all been there. We've failed to get a coveted job and made mistakes at the ones we have. We know how hard it is to own that, to not think it's a reflection on your overall ability and value. We know what it takes to send out the next resume, to show up the next day. But most of us don't choose a vocation or avocation that is guaranteed failure a majority of the time. Why would we? It's too hard.
So please spare us the well-intentioned speech or link to a story about the benefits of letting your kids fall down so they can pick themselves back up. Theater parents are a lot of things, but one thing we can't be-no matter how much we may want to-is the parent who shelters her child from failure. Time and time again, we watch them walk into a room that almost guarantees it. And then we wait.
It's not easy. As a matter of fact, I would like a participation trophy, please.