I grew up afraid. Having an alcoholic father taught me that. We were never allowed to disagree openly with him, and his anger could be fierce. I learned to bury, and even lie to myself about my emotions in order to survive. I learned to lock myself in my room as much as possible, where I could feel some semblance of safety.
When I had children I vowed that while they would have a healthy respect for my husband and me, they would not feel the fear I felt. I wanted them to be able to express their anger, even at me. I wanted them to be able to stand up for themselves. And they do, within certain limits. In our house anger is okay, but we’re not allowed to belittle another person, or use words like “stupid,” “idiot” or “shut up.” We can say “I’m angry with you,” but not “I hate you” (although that does come out once in a while). I am far from being the world’s perfect mother or wife, and I’m sure my oldest has spent a good amount of time complaining about me to her therapist – but I try, and I feel like I have a good relationship with all three of my children.
Something happened recently.
My oldest, who’s 15, has been participating in the school marching band’s color guard (you know, the kids who run around the field or march with flags). She loved it at first, but has been on a steady path of disillusionment for months because the director has, in her opinion, been singling her out. She has been in tears many times lately, only bolstered up by her fellow students telling her it’ll be okay. Now, although I love my daughter, I know she’s not perfect, and usually I’m pretty good at seeing the teacher’s side of things. But this director has a reputation for being downright mean, which I’ve heard from other sources besides my daughter.
A few weeks ago the director publicly benched my daughter because it was cold, her fingers were numb, and she dropped her flag – during practice. She felt humiliated and seethed with anger and hurt for the rest of practice as she watched, then during the game in which she was allowed to perform. She cried with her friends on the squad, and when I picked her up after the game was over she cried with me. My daughter had enough. She wanted to quit. I encouraged her to stick it out. It was then the playoffs – I reminded her that she made a commitment to this, and that it was important to follow through, and not to let her squad down. I told her I’d be disappointed in her for letting down the squad, but that she had to make her own decision.
After this incident, and all tears, she went to talk with the director of the music program (who’s “above” the color guard director) and told her that she wanted to quit. I wasn’t there for the conversation, I know only what my daughter told me afterwards – but if even half of it is true I really wonder how these people end up leading our youth. I’m chalking the whole thing up to the color guard director just being mean, and the music director (who is new) being inexperienced. The music director basically told my daughter that she couldn’t quit and that she was being melodramatic and self-centered.
SHE’S FIFTEEN – OF COURSE SHE’S BEING MELODRAMATIC!!!!! Duh. Fifteen year old’s are incredibly melodramatic and self-centered – it’s called adolescence. What planet is this woman from???
I’ve never coached a team. But I have been “in charge” of people. And here’s what I’ve learned. To be an effective leader and get the most out of those you lead you have to know your people. Some respond well to the angry coach – “shape up!” “don’t be lazy!” – and some respond to the cheerleader type – “I know it’s hard, but you can do it!” Some folks, and I can imagine a lot of teenagers, respond well to a comforter, “I know you’re having a difficult time, I understand, hang in there.” My daughter definitely responds best to the comforter – and neither the color guard or music director knew this – and they’ve known her for two years.
The day after this “talk” with the music director, getting up for school on game day, she cried. Again. Cried that she couldn’t face another Friday night game. She didn’t have it in her. Again, I told her that I would be disappointed if she dropped out because she had made a commitment to her squad. I told her to try to see it through.
Shortly after her school day was over she texted me to pick her up. I asked her about color guard practice and she said she just couldn’t. She couldn’t face it. She emailed the music director and that was it. She got in the car looking lighter than she had in weeks.
My daughter has done something I could never have done at her age. The more I thought about it, the more I saw MY behavior and attitude as playing my “old tapes” – take the abuse because you can’t fight back. And the more I thought about it, the more I moved from being disappointed in her to being downright PROUD. She saw herself being mistreated and wasn’t going to be passive about it. She was sad for her squad, but wasn’t willing to subject herself to poor treatment as the price for staying. She did exactly what I’ve been raising my children to do – she stood up for herself.
Quitting isn’t always the best way to deal with a problem. Sometimes quitting is taking the coward’s way out. But sometimes quitting is a sign of health, strength, and can be downright BRAVE. I love this girl!
***p.s. – The game she dropped out of ended up being the last game for her team. Most of her squad members, even if they didn’t agree with her decision, respected it. She has not heard from the color guard director or the music director since. Also, out of respect for my daughter’s privacy, she read this first and gave me her permission to post…