A to Z Challenge: E is for Empathy


What’s harder on a parent’s heart than a disappointed kid?

EFor Day 5 of the A to Z Challenge, E is for Empathy. It feels hopeless to see our kids sad. What can we do? We can hope, we can love, and we can never leave their side, that’s what. A parent’s default – a dad’s, especially – is to fix everything. Even when he can’t.

Last week I wrote about the way Madison flings her body around the soccer pitch as a goalkeeper.

Pride swells when she stops a goal and her teammates voice appreciation –in words and intensified play. She’s a spark plug. She’s also a tether ball, smacked and kicked and sent this direction and that. I wince every time. I want to run on the field to protect her.

A crucial lesson in parenthood: Resist the urge to fix what you can, cover what you can’t and shield your kid from everything else.

Camdyn and I attended Broadway Junior recently. It’s a day of theatrical performances from regional schools. Broadway professionals critique and commend the actors. Kids attend workshops and learn lyrics and techniques and dance moves.


Chasing the gold

Judges watch for superstar performers, kids who show gumption and plenty of flair.

They select two all-stars from each school to perform a number they learn in 60 minutes. Camdyn has watched classmates and other superb performers bounce to the stage as their names are called, medals draped over their necks over smiling faces.

It’s an honor – but hit or miss.

How can an all-star emerge in an 11-minute act? She can’t. She might flash panache, splash and shine. Show pizzazz, with a presence. Camdyn knows. She acted with an eye on the prize: She sold it, sister.

When Queen’s Grant took the stage first to perform Jungle Book, Camdyn’s face became utter animation.

Expressions burst through almond-shaped brown eyes, life and vivaciousness from an artistic smile. Girlfriend had it. Only she didn’t. Although one judge pointed at her, they picked another girl from the school. One of Camdyn’s friends.

I studied Camdyn’s expression, the disappointment welling within.

Dealing with it

She clapped for her classmate, and fought to smile through disappointed lips. Not a disparaging word emerged from those lips. Our drive-home conversation? I can’t give all the details. But here’s the highlights:

I love you, Camdyn. Your performance? Stellar. When you love what you do, and do what you love, there’s reward in that, isn’t there? All true, but … You gave an all-star performance. I loved watching you. 

I know others did too. You deserved to be up on that stage.

“It kind of sucked not to be picked, didn’t it?”

She smiled and nodded.

We’ll get them, next year.

empathy quote


  1. Lyn says:

    Knowing how your kid is feeling, and voicing it helps heal the disappointment. The kid remembers, “Hey, my Dad knew how I was feeling.” It’s a special gift, Eli 🙂

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks Lyn – I knew it wasn’t right to tell her to suck it up and get over it. I also knew it wasn’t right to tell her that she got robbed and the judges are stupid.

      1. Lyn says:

        Being a parent is like walking a tightrope at times – blindfolded and without a net 🙂

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        Don’t forget, while juggling flaming butcher knives, too!

      3. Lyn says:

        Oh yes, I forgot about that 🙂

  2. Aw, I wanted to cry for Grace, but great advice you did give her and got my fingers crossed for next year for her, too!

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      She’ll be right back at it, Janine!

  3. laurie27wsmith says:

    It can only make you try harder Mate but you still feel for them.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      From off stage or the sideline, they’ll always have my support, mate.

      1. laurie27wsmith says:

        That’s what a good Dad does Mate!

  4. stomperdad says:

    I’ve always used the term “Helicopter Parents” for those who did everything for their kids. I just recently learned of another term I like even more; “Snowplow parents”. The ones who push everything that might make their child stressed, disappointed, etc… out of the way. I’m so happy you gave her the opportunity to be on stage. It certainly sounds as if nothing else existed for her while she was performing. Isn’t that what it’s all about? You handled the drive home as well as she performed on stage!

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks brother. I learn a lot from these kids. “Snowplow parents” – I know a few! We can’t keep them in bubble wrap forever, can we? Somewhere along the line, our generation convinced itself that the detached parenting we sometimes experienced in the 70s could be combated only with hyperactive parenting for our kids now.

      Man, that’s a whole other post!

      1. roweeee says:

        There has to be a happy medium.

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        It’s not even always happy, but right.

  5. ksbeth says:

    it really is the hardest thing, to find the balance in this, but so important –

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      it helps if they know their parents care, but aren’t hellbent on outcomes.

  6. roweeee says:

    Empathy was a great choice for E and I wish I’d thought of it because it’s something that is so important to me. My favourite quote is from Harper Lee in “To Kill SA Mockingbird” : “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
    I feel for you with your daughter but the more accomplished your kids become, the greater the competition. Our son will be auditioning for the performing arts class at our local high school but trying to get him practicing his guitar every day to get up to speed is a chore. I don’t know if he’s going to make it but the on ly way to find out is to try and that is what he’ll be playing.
    I wrote about Easter for my E and included links to Easter traditions around the world, which was a lot of fun.
    Hope your family had a happy and blessed Easter.
    xx Rowena

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks Rowena! I’ve noticed early on that the word choices have been similar in theme, but that’s just the way it’s gone. Still a lot of alphabet left!

      When our kids do what they love, there is some satisfaction in that alone. When they’re able to take it to a bigger stage, I think the lessons they learn there, succeed, fail or all else in between, is invaluable.

      I’ll check out your Easter post for sure …

  7. Kim says:

    I love that you are so in tune with your girls!
    It seems like not all guys get the empathy thing – they just want to step in and “fix” stuff!!! After almost 19 years of marriage, Chris has it down pretty well even though I know that he is thinking about how to fix stuff:)

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      There’s nowhere I’d rather be, Kim! Dads need to see that a fix isn’t always the answer. It won’t stop us from thinking about it, though. Always.

  8. You’re right, it’s just so hard as a parent to see our kids sad, and that feeling of hopelessness is a killer. But we can only be there to offer our love and encouragement, which is the most important thing and one of the things they will treasure when they see beyond the disappointment 🙂

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      It might hurt us as parents more than it hurts the kids, Melissa! We all just need someone to believe in us.

      1. Absolutely we do!

  9. valj2750 says:

    The hardest thing a parent can do is just listen and not try to solve or fix. Just offer love and empathy. I remember that quote (although I can’t remember if Maya Angelou said it or someone else) kids don’t remember what you say, they remember how you make them feel.” Or some paraphrase of that. Great post.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      A kid just needs someone to listen and understand sometimes. I remember that Angelou quote when I coach, too.

      Thanks Val!

  10. Rhonda Albom says:

    Sounds like she really handled that with grace. Congratulations to your little superstar. Sometimes the winner is the one who is strong enough to cheer on her friend.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      She made me proud, for sure. She gets it. All my girls handle disappointment like champs. I could learn from them.

  11. mamarabia says:

    Sometimes it helps just to have someone acknowledge that life sucks! Way to go, Eli!

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      We still need that as grownups, don’t we Rabia? I’m with her no matter what.

  12. “Not to win but to take part”… Still I’m sorry it didn’t work out this time.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      She’ll give it a good shot again!

  13. Louise says:

    This is such a beautiful – and on point – post. It is so hard not to jump in there and FIX things and instead let kids, once ready, work through it on their own, but with our support.

    I agree with one of the above conversations – it sounds like your conversation on the car ride home helped give voice to her feelings and thoughts and so work through it and know she did a great performance and who was chosen to win should be separate from how she feels about how she did. Yes – it’s disappointing not to be chosen, but that doesn’t take away from having a) done your best and b) done it well. So much in life is subjective.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks Louise. How can they grow if we don’t let them work through life? Not abandon them, but be there for support.

      I never want her to think, “why bother?” because the rewards aren’t immediate. I also don’t want her to toil at something she doesn’t feel in her heart.

      Then, the passion turns to drudgery.

      She’s moved on to what’s in front of her today, and next year on that stage, I know she’ll burst with life again.

      And hope.

  14. firebailey says:

    You know your other post about “F” for failure? This is why you don’t fail as a dad: you acknowledged it sucked. You allowed her to say yes it did and realize there is next year….so not a fail.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks Kerri. I wasn’t sure if maybe a Danny Tanner moment would have been more appropriate, but I’m best when I can give an Eli Pacheco moment. For better or for worse!

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