Not Everything Needs to Be a Lesson

A week ago, I made a big parenting mistake. And to make it even worse, I didn’t even realize it until Story told me.

On Sunday, Story made her dancing debut on stage in a glittery blue dress with a matching bow in her hair (no, I’m not kidding). She was all smiles and excitement. Mom and my sisters came up for the show. Ali brought Riley and Maddie. And even Story’s best friend and her family attended. Story put forth her best effort, and I was the proudest mama in the audience. And then there was a hiccup.

Story missed her final bow and flower. She was terribly upset. Inconsolable, really, though she tried mightily to put on a good face while we were in public. I won’t go into detail, but it spiraled until she declared that she hated dance and never, ever wanted to do it again.

And this is where my parenting blunder came in. As usual, I tried to turn it into a lesson, to advance her knowledge of the real world, to do what parents are supposed to do and take every opportunity to teach their children. I reminded her that she was supposed to find her group toward the end of the show and that if she had just paid attention to her instructor, she would have known where to go. I wanted to highlight the consequences of her lack of attention, which looking back on, seems more like my throwing it in her face and basically saying, “I told you so.” To my daughter. To my hurting, angry, and sad daughter. Believe it or not, it gets worse. When she declared that she would never do dance again, I scoffed and told her that if her friends did it, she would want to as well. She’d get over it.

A few days ago, I mentioned to Story that Riley and Maddie were going to sign up for dance and tried to persuade a return of enthusiasm. She said she’d think about it — a win in my book. All proud of myself, I turned to go about my business. Story said, “You know, Mom, about the other night . . . sometimes I just need to be sad.”

And there you have it. My daughter schooled me on parenting. (But that’s usually the way it goes, isn’t it?) I should have just let her be sad. I should have acknowledged her feelings instead of trying to use them to forward my own objectives. I should have listened and comforted and let her know that having such feelings was perfectly all right.

Story taught me another powerful lesson in parenting: Not everything needs to be a lesson.