Are You Parenting In The Arena?


If we are always following our children into the arena, hushing their critics, and assuring their victory, they’ll never learn that they have the ability to Dare Greatly on their own. 

-Brene’ Brown, Daring Greatly

As soon as children hit school age, they begin to run up against challenges, competition, and disappointment. Prior to this, at least from our experience, their challenges and disappointments are centered around things they have created on their own, their behavior, something they wanted but did not get (like a second popsicle), and other trivial issues.

While I work hard not to trivialize any thing that is important to them in their world, in the grand scheme of things, these “issues” are so small scale, and many of them are self-generated. And while they aren’t nearly old enough or aware enough to articulate it, part of me suspects that they understand the difference between these “challenges” and the more significant ones that they face in the real world.

The ones that come from outside the house, from others, from “failures”, from feeling inadequate or embarrassed, those are the ones that reverberate inside, and have them asking questions that they don’t know how to answer. The same is true for all of us, really.

My daughter doesn’t question her worth, or wonder if she is good enough, when she doesn’t receive a second helping of ice cream. It’s a great injustice, no doubt. But I don’t think it stirs up anything inside of her soul. And when her father isn’t taking a harsh and curious stand against ice cream, and she does get the second bowl, there is no strengthening of spirit or building of character. These things, mostly, are not critical to raising up strong children.

Most have probably heard this segment from Teddy Roosevelt’s speech, Citizenship in a Republic. This piece is known as, Man in the Arena. 

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, a who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat

This speech is the foundation of Brene’ Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, and the quote that started this posts suggests that, when we don’t allow our children to experience these, then they will never learn how to handle them on their own. Without exaggeration, I believe that our children will become “cold and timid souls” if we are constantly walking with them into the arena, fighting their battles, and then walking them out of the arena.

Many times, as we walk them out of the arena, we are complaining about the coach, or the officials, or the opponent. The teacher doesn’t like you, the test is biased, it doesn’t matter, let’s transfer schools, we’ll find somewhere else for you to go, don’t worry about it sweetie…

I’ll stack the love I have for my children up against anyone on the planet. I fail miserably, and often, and I don’t always measure up to the dad that I want to be. But I love my kids, and want the best for them.

Let’s not confuse love with coddling.

Let’s not confuse love with (over) protecting.

Let’s not confuse wanting the best for our kids with keeping them from being “marred by dust and blood” on occasion.

They can’t dare greatly if we constantly stand next to them with an orange slice and a bucket of excuses.

Sometimes, they lose.

Sometimes, the other guy was better. No caveats. Don’t ask to check his birth certificate. Don’t point out that he has a mustache even though he’s playing in the 6th grade age group. Don’t discuss the foul count or the strike zone. Your kid got beat (and that’s okay).

Sometimes, they don’t get the grade they hoped for. Sometimes they don’t get the grade they worked for. The answer, for much of my life, has been “hard work” and “do things the right way”. And I think that’s a pretty good answer. But sometimes, it isn’t enough. Sometimes you had a bad day. Sometimes you worked hard on the wrong thing. Sometimes, the person or test you were working on, asked a different question. Sometimes, you did your best, and someone was still better.

Sometimes, you are more qualified for the job, and you don’t get it.

Sometimes you get unjustly fired.

Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out.

Sometimes, you fail.

And then what? What are our kids going to do when these challenges arise? And make no mistake, they are coming.

They can’t enter the arena at 25, or 35, for the first time. Without the experience of wiping off the the dust, or sweat, or blood, on their own, as a child, they are going to have a really difficult time learning to do it well later.

What I do think is okay, and healthy, at this point, is to be a safety net for our children.

Not a safety net that protects them from harm, but one that picks them up after they have been through the hard knocks. We can reach out, and help them up, and build on the lesson they have just learned through their struggle.

So we get to choose.

We can help them see through the struggle or help them skip the struggle.

When we help them skip the struggle, we complain with them and for them. We provide the excuses for them, and they will gladly accept them. We point out all of the injustices, and help them construct a foundation of complaint, weakness, and fear. We cripple their ability to dare greatly.

When we help them see through the struggle, we begin to lay the foundation for strong, healthy, resilient adults. When we help them see through the struggle, we challenge their complaints, we teach them what controllable factors are, and discuss solutions over excuses. As children, and later as adults, they will learn how to walk into the arena, not absent of fear, but still, courageously, to battle what life throws at them.

I have a friend who I observed once while he was speaking with his team. And he discussed the hard right vs. the easy wrong. And the easy wrong is

So. Much. Easier…right now.

It usually makes things much more difficult later. As is the case with much of the things we deal with as parents, this concept can be difficult. It’s hard, but it’s right.

Gosh!, what kind of kids would we have if they learned to live like this?

…strives (valiantly) to do the deeds

…knows great enthusiasms

…great devotions

…who spends himself in a worthy cause

…who at best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly

The investment we make, mostly, is an investment not to be caught up in all of the crap ourselves. Really, it’s a choice we make, not necessarily to deliver great speeches or to dare greatly ourselves (though, this is pretty important), but rather, to be above the fray in how we react and respond to the challenges our children face.

You can’t save them from embarrassment, and hurt, and disappointment. Not forever. And believe me, I know that is hard.

Better to go ahead and get on with it, and let them enter the arena on their own, whatever that may be for them right now.

Teach them to get up off the floor, get back on the bus, raise their hands one more time, study some more, stay late after practice. Teach them to battle. Teach them to dare greatly, and live with the results.

And when they come home, muddy, sweaty, bloody and scarred, you can be there, with a big hug, a heart full of encouragement and a smile on your face, proud of the effort they’ve made. Be there, not to save them from those things, but to teach them that the effort matters, and that sometimes, the only choice left is to stand back up, keep fighting. And to do so with great effort and great enthusiasm, whenever possible.

Clean ’em off, fill ’em up, and send them back in to the arena. Let them know that you’ll be waiting for them, just outside, but they must take the steps into the arena all on their own.

Much Love,


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