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Guest editorial: Do we really get the lesson of women’s soccer loss to Japan

When the women’s soccer team collapsed into a national heartache Sunday there was this collective urge to find a way to make the pain disappear. It hurt. They had tried so hard, done so well and we had prepared ourselves for a moment of well-deserved glory.
Yet, a cruel fate, and some gargantuan Japanese hearts, stole it from our girls, and us, and left in its place a sense of undeserved loss.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
It rarely is, and yet, it keeps happening and the psychological and political consequences surround us.
Much is being written about the built-in expectations of happiness that the baby-boomer generation is trying to transfer to its children, and failing miserably. We are the super parents, the ones paying obsessive attention to each detail of our children’s lives. The ones who manage each circumstance to the nth degree. We’re there for them. Every day. Every minute. From birth’s first drawn breath to when, it seems, they draw their first Social Security check.
And we don’t mind, except what the psychologists are telling us is that it’s not working. Their couches are being occupied by people in their 20s and 30s who love their parents, think they had a great upbringing, have great jobs, spouses, etc. But they aren’t as happy as they thought they should be. Something is missing for them and they are trying to tease it out.
As the writer and psychologist Lori Gottlieb explains, it’s new territory for psychologists. Normally they deal with patients who had poor relationships with their parents, not stellar ones. What they are figuring out is that happiness is a byproduct of life, not a goal itself, and that protecting against unhappiness is counterproductive.
Thus, our inclination to reach and make things better for the U.S. women’s soccer team is the same inclination we follow as parents. We anticipate unhappiness before it strikes our children, and work to avoid it. We spend our entire lives doing this. It explains, in part, our indulgent life styles.
As family physicians tell us, if you don’t let your kids eat a little dirt as they tromp through mud puddles, their immune systems will be less robust. If they aren’t allowed to climb trees, or run with abandon down mountain trails, they will not have the total body coordination they would have otherwise.
In other words, they need to be exposed to life’s struggles, its profound discomforts and its failures. And they need to be exposed to them early on so that they learn that they are capable of dealing with hardship.
As a parenting generation, we’ve not done well at this. College deans have coined the term “teacups” for students who are so fragile that the slightest challenge threatens their world. [The University of Vermont, by the way, has hired “parent bouncers” just to shoo hovering parents away from their shining stars.]
We’re not helping if we think that by solving all their problems, meeting all their needs, and being there 24/7 that we’ve fulfilled our role as commendable parents.
It’s not real. After years of being told they are the centers of the universe, what should we expect to happen when they are tossed into a societal maelstrom in which everyone else has been told the same?
And isn’t it this narcissistic sense that dominates our politics? Our governing bodies overindulge us as well. Any discussion about doing better with less is greeted with the same appeal Voldemort holds to Harry Potter readers.
And it applies to the classroom. No one wants to be average. There are those students who are gifted, and those who have learning disabilities. But not one of us has a child who is “just average.” Can a child possibly cope in today’s world if they are just good, average kids?
Absolutely not. They are told if they just work hard enough that they, too, could be one of those on the silver screen playing for the nation’s glory. All eyes focused on them. They are entitled to that perfect life.
Perhaps we need to replay the game again.
Emerson Lynn/St. Albans Messenger

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