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Remember back in high school when you were dating someone you really liked and you were absolutely positive that person liked you? But then one day that person walks up to you and says, “I think we should just be friends,” and you pretended to be totally nonchalant about the whole thing, responding with a casual, “Oh, yeah, sure. I was kind of thinking the same thing”?
Yeah, that sucked.
But now here’s the grown-up, parenting-version of that crappy scenario, in which you have to put in an Oscar-winning performance: That moment when your kid’s sports team has just lost a major game, they are totally and completely devastated, and you have to pretend not to be totally and completely devastated too. Honestly, it ain’t easy. Combine the talents of Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba, and you still would have to struggle to feign casualness when you know your kid is sad because they failed at something.
When your child is upset that they didn’t do well in a sporting event or some other school activity, it is heartbreaking. You feel so bad for them. And yet, you can’t really show that at all; you can’t really show just how much you care because sometimes that will only make things worse. So you totally have to fake it and pretend that it’s no big deal. You do the whole “you’ll do better next time” thing and then go out for ice cream, cause ice cream makes things better than you ever could. It’s a weird game we parents have to play: pretending not to care when we really, really, really do.
Combine the talents of Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba, and you still would have to struggle to feign casualness when you know your kid is sad because they failed.
It can be a tricky act to pull off: Your kid is bummed and you’re bummed because your kid is bummed but you don’t want to show your kid you’re bummed cause they will think you’re bummed because they failed not because they’re bummed and that will cause them to become even more bummed which will cause you to become more bummed and suddenly everybody’s bummed out to the max with no hope of eliminating any sort of bumminess. (And if you think that following run-on sentence was hard to write, it’s still not as hard as pretending everything’s cool when your kid is bummed.)
You never really know how to approach your pretending not to care act, either. If you underplay it, your kid might think you really don’t care. Overplay it and your kid will immediately know you’re faking the funk, and faking the funk only makes it worse. There’s a real subtlety that comes with pretending not to care when you really do, and finding that sweet spot unfortunately only comes with lots and lots of practice (or, as we called it in high school, “play practice”).
I think that’s why on TV and in movies, when there is a scene where a kid is disappointed in an outcome, the mom or dad will just sit down next to them, put their arm around them and say nothing. Sure, it’s always a touching moment on screen, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the writer has no idea what to have the characters say in this situation and just opts for silence. Just like in real life, any excess of words will blow the parent’s cover.
Pretending not to care when your kids are disappointed in any sort of performance is one of the hardest things to do as a parent. (Well, that and functioning on a complete lack of sleep. That one’s a son of a bitch, too.) It’s a balancing act of not making it worse by criticizing and not overdoing any sort of praise so they don’t end up delusional; all while still being supportive enough so they won’t give up. It’s an acting job of the highest degree — one you don’t even know if you’re doing right.
On a brighter note, at least my theatre major is being used for something these days.
Kirk is a writer and editor for the website Guff.com. He is also the author of the popular comedy food blog, I Wish I Liked Flan. Read more from Babble here: