We are winding our way through Yellowstone, and my oldest daughter, is hard at work with a pencil and paper.  She is flustered, and cries angrily.

“I canNOT do it!  I am TRYING to draw a BEAR!  It does not LOOK like a BEAR!!  I drew an elk that I am very proud of, but I cannot DRAW A BEAR!”

She is frustrated. Annoyed. She works the lines but they are unwieldy, her fine motor skills failing to interpret between her mind and the paper.

I want to say, Oh, Honey, it does look like a bear!

I want to say, You are a wonderful artist!

I want to say, Don’t worry – maybe it is a magical, imaginary bear!

I want to fix. I want to untether her creativity from the pursuit of perfection. I want to free her love of drawing. I want to ground her sense of self, that she might feel proud of her effort, even when she falls short of her own expectations.

But what I want to say will not fix, untether, free, or ground.

No words of mine bridge the chasm between her expectation and her reality. They will never persuade the melange of lines on her paper into the bear she so desperately desires.

In that moment, my choice is different. I can’t make her okay with the not-quite-bear, but I can stand with her as she is outraged at its stubbornness. I can’t pacify the sadness, but I can help her learn to be patient with herself. And in this moment of fighting the impossible bear, I offer a deeper connection, one that sustains beyond this tiny encounter in Yellowstone for other times…

When she just can’t seem to read a word.

When she just can’t seem to dribble the basketball.

When her friends leave her out of a game.

When she loses a love.

When she gets passed over for a job or a scholarship.

My child, is okay to feel frustrated. Sometimes, our expectations of ourselves or others go unmet. I won’t leave you when you cry. I am not so unnerved by raw emotion that I rush to push everything back to a state of calm with my trite, unhearing words.

So I tell her:

          It’s not the way you want it to be.

          I feel frustrated when things don’t go like I want, too.

          When I am upset, I cry too.

          I will sit with you while you are sad.

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Related:

“When Children ‘Can’t Do It!’ (And How To Help)” from Janet Lansbury

“No More Tears…an Unfair Request” from Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute

“Helping Children Say Goodbye Without Distracting”