Parents of Senior Athletes: Embrace It All

Embrace it All

So far, the most emotionally intense time of my life revolved around senior year for our firstborn. Given that I had experienced a few overwhelming moments in my life up to that point, it does say something that our kid’s senior year affected me as much as it did. (I’m right back in that angst when I reread a letter I wrote to him during his hockey season on senior night). I knew our lives were changing forever and the phase of parenthood that I had come to love was coming to its last chapter.

The “lasts” were many and as the year progressed I realized I was back on the learning curve each time the next “last” thing arrived. It was intense and challenging and I don’t know that I navigated all of it as well as I had expected I would. I was scrambling not to feel the sadness and the grief that was trying to work its way into my awareness.

I want to do better this next time around. Our daughter is now a senior and she starts her last high school hockey season on Monday. I am bracing myself but all I really want to do is unbrace, actually more accurately I want to embrace every part of the experience.

Bracing is a defense. It is a leaning into an expectation that hard things are coming. And yes, hard things are coming, but when I was going through the hard things the first time, I was too focused on not feeling them that I actually missed some of the good things that were happening too.

It’s emotionally hard to have a senior in the house. If that senior is an athlete, for whom you have traversed seasons: emotional ups and downs,  hardships and joys, tears and blood, weakness and grit, the end of that emotional run can be even harder.

What might it look like if I were to embrace the hard instead of bracing for it? What does it look like and sound like to feel all of it…even the hard emotions? It means I’ll cry openly. It means I’ll tell people that I’m not ok sometimes. It means I’ll open myself up to moving through the experience with a full and vulnerable heart. It also means the smiles can be wider and the joy of arriving at this next chapter with her can be felt to its height.

I coach high school teams so I have watched families navigate the inevitable emotional stages of letting kids go. I’ve seen some families absolutely rock the senior year reality and I’ve seen some families hunker down and get intensely agitated as the ugly emotions swirl. I have watched disappointment and frustration when things don’t go as well as they hoped a senior year might and I’ve witnessed grand elation when the very best stories write themselves. In my observation, bracing creates an emotional rigidity and it is not how I want to do it this time around.

I heard the concept of emotional agility explained so beautifully in this Ted Talk, and being rigid with emotion is the least human response we can have. I cannot expect all positive emotions, even if it is a championship season, and it’s important to pay attention to the colorful reality of it all: good, bad, and ugly.

The football moms in our town will gather tonight to greet their boys as they arrive for the last home playoff game of the season. Those moms with seniors will do this for the very last time. Some of them, who have done this with multiple boys, are closing out a chapter of their lives that in all likelihood they do not want to see end. Even though they may win and the highs of a generally positive experience will exist, so too will the emotional challenges of an ending.

I want them to know that I see them and I know days like today can be hard. I also want them to know that I sincerely hope they are embracing all of it. Their beautiful lives and the senior boys they’ve worked so hard to raise are worth an open-hearted hug that fills them completely.

And then when my turn comes to arrive at the end of our daughter’s senior hockey season, I can look back at these words and be reminded to embrace it…all of it.

Copyright Meagan Frank 2019

The Team Adult Playbook


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