Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Can You Be Tough AND Tender?

Three days ago my youngest child Daniel got a bloody nose while sparring at karate. He happened to be sparring with his older brother Christopher. Christopher threw a roundhouse kick that was supposed to land on Daniel’s helmet. Unfortunately for Daniel Christopher’s aim was a bit off and it landed instead on Daniel’s nose. I didn’t see it happen so I was unsure of how hard Daniel had been hit. What I saw was one little boy whose face had crumpled in tears and a lot of blood. It was the first time this has happened to him so it was a bit dramatic. There were tears both shed and unshed (shed by him, not shed by me) and some blood. At first I thought his mouth was bleeding – his mouth guard (which he was wearing thank goodness) was filled with blood, but there turned out to be no injury to his mouth.

While I was cleaning him up his karate instructor John ran over with a camera and took some snapshots. He said something like, “Excellent. Rite of passage. Now you belong here!” After briefly looking for an ice pack that turned out not to be available, John was back in class. Before he re-entered the dojo he said, “Make sure Daniel leans forward while pinching his nose. You don’t want him to choke on it.”

At first my reaction inside was, “What the hell? Didn’t he belong before?” I was on the cusp of losing my temper, overprotective Mama Bear that I am. But I thought about what John was saying, I looked at my son. I thought, “Daniel seems to be okay. He definitely had his bell rung, but there don’t seem to be a lot of injuries.” While I was definitely absorbed in making sure my little boy was okay, I began to think about how he would be affected by my reaction to what happened. If I overreacted to what happened he would never get back in class.
It was important that he go back to class. We can’t let the things that hurt us and try to tear us down stop us from accomplishing our goals. I had an opportunity to teach Daniel something about resiliency and I wasn’t going to miss it.

With all of the wonderful lessons to be learned by this teachable moment you would think that both Daniel and I left Friday’s karate class feeling on top of the world. The truth is, I feel very conflicted by what happened. Part of me is so proud of my boy because he was able to pull himself together. After stopping the bleeding and cleaning up his face and neck, Daniel re-entered class and continued on business as usual.

What bothers me is that there were no life lessons learned by my other son, Christopher, about empathy and caring for those you love. Not once did he come over to see if Daniel was alright. There were no questions about Daniel and his well-being. Was that because he didn’t care or because he knew we (myself, John and a couple of mothers there) were already taking care of things?

Mental toughness and physical toughness are important things to cultivate in our children. Our children need to learn that adversity will not crush them and that they can choose to learn from life’s bumps and bruises. Christopher impressed me this morning by making the observation that losing is sometimes better than winning because you learn more from losing than you do from winning. This is something that his karate instructors have discussed in the past and it was nice to see that Christopher had internalized that learning.

But what about being kind? Tender? Sensitive? These are things that should be equally valuable in the world. Unfortunately we do not seem to value these characteristics in our children. We tell them to “Man up” or “stop being a baby” when they cry. What about recognizing that there are things that are going to make us cry or bring us to our knees? What about honoring these tender places in our children and teaching them that tenderness or sensitivity doesn’t have to equal defeat?

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