When Your Child’s Struggles Become Your Failures {on becoming a “foam pit parent”}

When Your Child's Struggles Become Your Failures

I have the great fortune of having been born at the end of one decade and the beginning of another. That means that when I turned twenty, I had seen all the things the groovy Seventies and righteously radical Eighties had to offer. My play list looks like the Stranger Things soundtrack.

One of the most fascinating aspects of growing up in the 1970s and 80s, and now parenting in the 2000s, is the amount of labels everyone carries. 

In my early twenties, I discovered that, evidently, I was a latch-key, Gen X-post-women’s-lib-woman. As I entered parenthood, I was told to dare-to-discipline while shepherding hearts and to never helicopter while raising my GenY-post-millenial children. It’s enough to make your head swim.

Recently, as I watched my beautiful Asian-born daughter in a puddle over AP Psychology vocab tests and college scholarship applications, I realized that all the titles in the world don’t prepare you for the days just before your child takes flight

For the last sixteen years, I’ve read every book, blog and article, listened to every piece of advice, podcast, and cassette tape ~ yeah – I’m old enough for that ~ followed by deep scriptural study to do this parenting thing right.

And as my sweet girl fell apart from the pressure of our post-modern, suburban, gotta-get-into the-right-school culture, I feared, “Lord, have I failed her?”

“Have I given her less than the best? Or worse yet, more than she could handle?”

“Am I all the very worst things the articles, psychologists, and pontiffs say we modern parents are? Have I helicoptered when I should have thrown her in the deep end to sink or swim? Have I coddled when I should have told her to ‘buck up and deal’?”

Her struggles suddenly became my failures.

My heart and my hopes for her so tightly intertwined.

In a flash, the Father of Gifts erased my images of flying rescue machines or Attila the Hun training methods and replaced them with a familiar scene from my girls’ childhood.

He said, “Denise, I haven’t called you to be a rescuer, a drill sergeant or an absentee parent. Your girls need a foam-pit parent.”

We foam-pit parents stand by and watch – cheering on our little ones even as they grow too big for their leotards. We lay in giant holes beneath them as they climb the uneven bars of life one barefoot step at a time. And when they reach the top bar, ready to dismount, we offer comfort, safety and security for their big moment.

The foam never reaches up and does the full twist for them, but neither does it walk away when they are unsteady and clumsy in their practice of becoming adults. 

Foam-pit parents wait. 

Foam-pit parents safely engulf when their loved ones slip and fall.

Foam-pit parents quietly build confidence that these long hours of rehearsal, the sore muscles of maturity, will all be worth it.

So foam-pit parenting it is. 

Sometimes it stinks down here – all the sweaty, sweet effort of the gymnast-child splashes up on the foam, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“He will cover you with his wings; you will be safe in his care; his faithfulness will protect and defend you.” Psalm 91:4 GNT

How about you?

What labels give you life?

What labels suck the life from you?

How’s life in the foam pit?


Denise McDowell

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