Musings on “Life Is Not Fair” & Sarah Palin

Politics aside, as I learn more about Sarah Palin, John McCain’s vice presidential running mate, some deep parenting questions surface within my heart.

Governor Palin is a mother of five children. Trig, the four-month-old baby has been diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome. At seventeen years of age, Bristol, her eldest daughter, is expecting a baby this winter.

Despite meticulous planning and enormous efforts, life does not always materialize in the way which we had imagined it would. Undoubtedly, several years ago, Sarah Palin would not have predicted that her family would find itself in its current situation.

I find myself wondering, what would I do if my teenage daughter told me that she was pregnant? How would I react if my teenage son informed me that he was going to become a father? What is the appropriate reaction to the myriad of events that may occur, those that are not in line with our plans for the future?

The bigger question that begs to be asked is: If it can be so challenging for me to deal with life’s various hurtles, it must be even harder for children to deal with disappointments. If parents sometimes get angry or resort to blaming others for the unfairness of life, how can we expect our children to accept all that comes their way with equanimity?

Let us make the assumption that children are not born instinctively understanding and accepting the fact that life is not fair.

“It’s not fair!” is the mantra of all children; and the truth is that life is absolutely unfair- some of us have more blessings than others. What can we parents do to help our children deal with inevitable disappointments that crop up from time to time?

I just got home from a wilderness program for teenage boys. Most of them were sixteen years old and addicted to illegal drugs. Every teenager faces some complications; why is it that some teens are unable to cope with their problems; why do they feel compelled to run away from the predicament and escape to a world of drug or alcohol addiction?

The answer is that that particular child did not know how to deal with disappointment. In all probability, he is not completely at fault; and the culture around him can be blamed.

The need to eliminate disappointment is a reflection of today’s social norms. Recall the commercials featuring a man suffering from severe heartburn after eating a slice of pizza. The next clip shows the same guy polishing off a double-cheeseburger, smiling calmly at the camera as he holds a bottle of white pills that eliminated the symptoms of heartburn. Have you ever wondered what kind of message that sends our children?

Simply stated, the moral of the commercial is this: You do not need to endure pain!
Similar advertisements for pain-relieving pills abound. While I would never discourage one from swallowing some Excedrin to rid yourself of a headache, the reality is that we are living in an unprecedented age of ‘I-should-not-feel-any-pain’.

In fact, some medications are detrimental to reducing a fever, because the higher temperature of the body caused by the fever is actually the vehicle that kills the infection. Popping pills to reduce a fever can sometimes cause the illness to last longer in one’s body.
And so it is with the mind and soul.

Regular pill-popping to reduce heartburn can cause you to ignore the benefits of healthy eating in favor the immediate taste and sensation of pizza and fries.

Swallowing depression-alleviating-tablets can cause you to bypass the source of the sadness, and focus only on eliminating the unpleasant symptoms.

Banishing symptoms can definitely make you feel better. Yet, overlooking the cause of the symptoms virtually guarantees that newer and more dangerous symptoms will arise.

It might be the heart attack due to the blocked arteries stuffed with hamburger remnants, which you were able to eat since your pill eliminated the heartburn. Or, it could be the breakup of a marriage due to nagging feelings of low-self-woth that had been effectively swept under the carpet by depression medication.

The fuse will blow when overloaded by multiple appliances because it is not a good idea for the electricity to overheat and cause a fire. Some people react to a blown fuse by turning off some of their gadgets. Others prefer to ignore the hot fuse, slight aroma of smoke, and singed wires, and keep restarting the fuse until it will no longer operate.

Symptoms are warning bells being sounded. The ringing of the bells are not the problems; the cause of their chiming is the true issue.

Drug and alcohol usage and overly disrespectful behavior are a piercing cry for help. The cause of the cry, not its decibel level, must be addressed. Just as you would not tinker with the fire-house’s bell to battle a raging fire, do not make the mistake of exclusively addressing the child’s behavior when dealing with a teenager in distress.

The child who is addicted to harmful substances, or acting out in inappropriate manners, has not learned to deal with disappointment. Life’s sorrows have overwhelmed her ability to handle distress; therefore she turned to the bottle.

Disappointments come in all shapes and sizes. They begin at birth, when an infant leaves the comfort of the womb with a heart-wrenching cry. Leading an optimistic, cheerful family is no contradiction to teaching your child to expect and realize that life is far from perfect. Allow him to mourn the stolen bicycle or broken toy without rushing out to immediately purchase a replacement to assuage his tears.

When a young child is given the time to mourn, and the gentle touch of comfort to help her through the loss of her favorite doll carriage, she learns a valuable life lesson; how to deal with sadness. She will develop the category in her brain that will serve as a reference to mourn, express sadness, accept the disappointment, and then move onward. She will access this essential skill when she is teased about her braces, dumped by her boyfriend, dismissed from the softball team, and rejected by the college of her choice.

The ability to mourn, accept heartache, and resolutely move ahead is what sets apart the teenagers who thrive from the ones who are slaves to addictions. The children who were taught to deal with the unfortunate events that are part of the package we call ‘life’ will definitely encounter bumps as they grow up. However, they have the strength of character and emotional wherewithal to dust themselves off, and get back on their feet. The other children, who were spoiled by always having Mom or Dad wipe their tears away, handed sweets or expensive toys to wash away the memory of a disappointing event, will be headed for trouble in their teen years. When the cookie or new plaything is no longer able to wash away their sadness, they will be on the lookout for something bigger to allay their distress. And it will be all too easy for them to find it.

So, when your three-year-old cries over the broken red crayon, hold him and say, “I know, sweetie, you really liked that crayon, and now it’s broken. Sometimes disappointing things just happen.” Resist the urge to say, “Oh, Sweetie, don’t worry, Mommy is going to buy you a new crayon right away!” Perhaps you will buy him another crayon; whether you do so or not is totally irrelevant. The important, essential point is that he learned that sad things happen, and they need to be accepted.

It’s a fact: In the course of a happy childhood, the ability to deal with sadness when the child is young, will prevent the scathing pain of addiction when the child has grown older.

When we raise our children we are not looking for the quick-fix pill, rather, for the healing touch that endures forever.

EDIT: As I read some of the comments, I realize that my thought process regarding the linkage of Sarah Palin and dealing with the unfairness of life was not entirely clear.

So, here goes: As I watched the media focus on all of Governor Palin’s personal issues, I wondered where, exactly, one can find a family of seven without any problems??? Then I continued to wonder- does the media think that Sarah Palin made a decisive, conscious choice to have her seventeen-year-old daughter become pregnant? We all know that as much as we’d like to, we cannot control everything that teenagers do these days. Imagine if Governor Palin’s response to Trig’s birth and Bristol’s pregnancy was- ‘Oh, no, my career is over, my life is going to be so difficult from now one, I am a victim of circumstances, this is all so unfair!’ Sarah’s response to the media, (which I can’t locate right now) about giving her daughter love and support throughout the difficulties involved in having a child were my inspiration to write this article. It is refreshing to see someone who can deal with things not going precisely as planned, and still stay strong. I hope that helps:)

Ellen C. Braun

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  1. This is a very sensitive topic for me, as I was raised by parents who would throw tantrums when things didn’t go their way, and I inherited that tendency- which is something I’m working on changing, so that I don’t pass it on to my son, Shane-6 and daughter Kayla- 4. Thank you for these insights.

  2. I too was raised by parents who had no concept of how to handle their anger – so I never learned any coping skills for mine. It led to use of drugs and alcohol for many years. Now I have 3 beautiful girls and am working a recovery program for my anger and learning how to identify the real emotions which manifest themselves as anger in me so that I can break the anger cycle for my girls. thanks for the article.
    also, I wholeheartedly support Sarah Palin – she is a REAL mom, not necessarily perfect but who is? Its how we handle the things that do come up that matters – our children will do things we wish they hadn’t but we love them anyway and support them.

  3. Alice Seward says:

    You are only partially correct. I am 49 years old and 17 years clean and sober. As a child I delt with a lot of disappointment and I was very resilient. However, from the very first second that I was introduced to drugs and alcohol, I promised myself that I would do this as often as possible. I am an addict. Call it what you will — an addict is an addict. You are not capable of knowing this unless you are one. Alice

  4. I loved the topic and the article – except the reference to Sarah Palin. She is too controversial for me to put “politics aside” and simply muse about her parenting… which of course are the challenges we all face – I get it. However, after she was so insulting, condesending and undignified last night (after the Obama campaign has completely stayed away from the controversy and asked their supporters to do the same) … and after she has put her minor child – going through the assumably the most difficult time in her life – right into the national limelight… I can’t even think of her and her family without great anger and sadness which distracted me from the message in the article. I will copy and past the rest of the content into a Word doc, print it and put it away to re-read another day.

  5. A FANTASTIC take and nice segue into a very critical topic often overlooked and understood by parents & children alike, esp today. Nicely put and well written. Thank you. P.S. Sarah’s OUTSTANDING. Thank goodness for her down to earth, tell it like it is, no holds barred, GENUINENESS. Much needed. Hopefully well heeded.

  6. This is very interesting, because it always struck me how my wife does not “allow” our daughters to ever be sad. She has a need to comfort them, give then toys and candy ASAP so they will stop crying. I think it can be healthy to allow children to cry about things once in a while. This is definitely valuable food for thought for my family, thank you.

    Dan, father of 3

  7. As a nurse, I see time and time again the attitude that pain should not be felt. Granted I do believe there is a time and place for medications, even those dealing with depression and other psychological symptoms. But people often forget that pain, be it physical or emotional, is how the body sends messages to the brain that an underlying problem needs to be address- it is a perfectly “normal” although unpleasant sensation. Masking some pain can even make symptoms worse. As a mother, it is my instinct to “fix” things for my children even though I know it is not always the best answer. Thanks for this reminder!

  8. Sarah Palin is trying to be all things to everyone. She should focus on doing one job really well. No one, man or woman, can do everything. Something has to give!

  9. Beth Schafer says:

    I am excited about Sarah!!!
    I was raised under not so good circumstances BUT it could have been worse! When GOD opened up my heart to what Jesus did for us at the Cross HE fixed every problem I had INCLUDING a broken heart! God through what HIS begotten son did is the ANSWER to ALL of our problems!!! NOT ONE PILL OR DOCTOR can do what has already been done by HIM!!! My children are being taught that so that GOD WILLING they don’t get sucked up into the untruths of this world!!! AMEN!!!

  10. Beth Schafer says:

    I am excited about Sarah!!! As a mother of a set of identical twins that are Down Syndrome this is very exciting to me!!!
    I was raised under not so good circumstances BUT it could have been worse! When GOD opened up my heart to what Jesus did for us at the Cross HE fixed every problem I had INCLUDING a broken heart! God through what HIS begotten son did is the ANSWER to ALL of our problems!!! NOT ONE PILL OR DOCTOR can do what has already been done by HIM!!! My children are being taught that so that GOD WILLING they don’t get sucked up into the untruths of this world!!! AMEN!!!

  11. As a grandmother of 66, I have some REAL concerns that don’t seem to be addresses here. I told my daughters as they were growing up, “as women, you can do ANYTHING that you choose to do (if you work hard enough, learn enough, and on and on) but I now know there is more that must be considered. I now add, “but you can’t do EVERYTHING”. We must make choices in our lives. There is a time and a place for everything. I’m not sure that this is the time for Sarah Palin to leave her family. But then, that’s a choice she AND her family will make.

  12. I too am uncomfortable about the parenting judgment of Sarah Palin. She is listed as the teacher for the home teaching of her daughter Bristol for this year. (They opted out of public school for 2007-2008 school year and applied for a home schooling permit). How can a governor or a vice president teach a high schooler? How can a VP participate in the Early Intervention that her son Trig has started or is about to start? The VP travels internationally often. How can Sarah Palin parent her very young family long distance and when she is gone for weeks at a time? Yes, Mr. Obama has children but his family is not as young. Choices should be made based on what is best for the family. There are tons of opportunities I have turned down because it was not good for my family. Sarah’s choice to enter the race at this time seems self centered.

  13. The Palin family will parent their children together. I’m surprised at the presumption that “she” will be too busy, never bringing her husband into the discussion. If she were single, or Todd Palin was uninvolved with their children, the points raised here would have some validity.

    I’m disappointed this site chose to use Sarah Palin as an example at all. It was an obvious ploy to draw attention, when the topic could have been covered very well otherwise.

  14. I am appalled by Palin’s choice to have 5 children AND high political aspirations. As a mother of 5 who has willingly sacrificed much, both in the job arena and personal arena, I know for a fact that no one can do it Dee says. So which will take the backseat…the VP job or the family? I guarantee one will, if it has’t already.

  15. Interesting article. The title caught my eye although I am confused as to how the details tie in with Sarah Palin. I must admit I am unable to put politics aside after witnessing the attempts to smear and condemn Sarah Palin for her choices and for her family situation. “Life isn’t fair” is obviously not one of her mottos. I have found her to be poised, uplifting and articulate in her speeches. She is an example of courage and determination. Her strength and ambition has inspired me and many women I know. I can only imagine the wealth of valuable lessons that she is teaching her own children.

  16. Sarah Palin is so refreshing, so real and a perfect example of what every man has to do.Why don’t we asked how men can do it? I’ve raised five children and helped with ten grandchildren and it hasn’t stopped me from working for ten years full time and have spent the other forty years volunteering almost full time. I have great children who are great parents. They work, but their main focus is always their family which is what Palin said.

    She represents all of the woman in America. We need people like her to contribute a woman’s perspective, and a woman’s compassion. She’s tough yet loving.My youngest daughter is a junior in college born when I was 45 and she’s a perfect example of what happens when a parent is consistant in life. My daughter has never taken drugs, smoked, drank and believes in celebacy before marriage. I attribute her choices to the fact that my husband and I loved her unconditionally but never gave in when we said, “NO”.
    She tells us all the time how thankful she is we didn’t let her do everything all the other kids did. She counsels her friends and sorority sisters and all who know her are amazed at her leadership skills. Say,”No!” when it’s not the best situation for them. Say,”No!” and mean it and love them with a whole heart and include them in your life.

  17. I’m trying to figure out what Sarah Palin has to do with this post. (??)

    I’m assuming you wouldn’t just randomly put a media sensation in an article’s title to spark interest, (would you?) so…

    Did she pop into your head as someone who is likely to be feeling sorry for herself? Or even that she should be feeling sorry for herself, because 1 of 5 of her children has a disability or 1 of her teenage children suffered from a lapse in judgement that has consequences. I highly doubt it. If she was brought down by these sorts of extremely common challenges thrown at parents today, she wouldn’t be the sort of person who has a 50/50 chance to become the first female Vice President of the United States.

    Are you suggesting that Palin’s daughter, whom some would say acted inappropriately, did so because her mother did not teach her how to deal with dissappointment (7 paragraphs from the bottom)? Isn’t that an overly simplistic view of what is surely an extremely complex situation. Not just in Palin’s family, but in any family with kids who are struggling with addiction.

    I’m usually VERY enlighted by your articles and I totally agree that it is CRITICAL to teach kids how to cope and gratify without massive stimulation (something I struggle with daily), but the Palin reference has me stumped. Perhaps a better title would have been “Musings on Life is not Fair and Brat Camp” since it appears the camp made you more reflective than anything remotely applicable to Sarah Palin.

    Signed, a successful six-figure career woman, democrat, mother of five.

  18. YOU GO SARAH!!! I commend Ms. Palin for following her dreams. I too was raised that if you work hard for what you want, all things are possible. I was raised on a small farm without the “silver spoon” so many of our politicians seem to have these days. I espesially liked the comment made by one of the speakers last night….”a man would never be asked if he could handle the job because of his young family at home”. Why should it be discussed now? There are many, many stay at-home Dad’s in todays world. I give my congratulations to this down-to-earth family. I believe Ms Palin and her family is EXACTLY what we need in the White House.

  19. I am quite disappointed in the Republican response to Sarah Pallin and her scripted theatrical performance. Family values? What are the ones she espouses and lives by? Her vindictive comments about Obama were more a commentary about her and the real undignified person she is. Her so called joke about pitbulls with lipstick is something she shouldn’t be so proud about as far as I am concern as a health and family educator by training. Is she saying she will bring us a pitbull nation!? “Jokes” often reflect our unspoken beliefs and intentions. Are those the family values she is talking about. How do you take care of children, two of whom will need her guidance and emotional comfort while you are working and traveling full time in Washington, some of which is foreign travel? Ms Pallin needs a parenting class as well as one in responsible decision-making. She should step out of her ego and withdraw from the nomination in the interest of her children. Small souls require heartfelt parents who have their priorities very clear!

  20. Comment for Beth S. Please think of your children as children first and having Down syndrome is one small part of who they are. When you say “my children are Down syndrome”, people hear “my kids are different than yours”. Yes, they have Down syndrome but they are much more like other children than they are different. It is the similarities that we want to convey to other people. Yes I ‘m sure you have heard doctors and other professionals refer to your children as “Down syndrome babies” but that doesn’t mean that they are right in doing so. The professionals have much to learn from parents. Good luck and congratulations on your twins.

  21. The choice of parenthood – made 5 times by the Palins – trumps all other choices when circumstances present a special need. No one else on this earth can be mother to Trig, a child with a life-long special need, or Bristol Palin in this time of crisis in her life. For Sarah Palin to ask the country for privacy for her daughter and then to parade her and her boyfriend out for all to see, tells me that she is choosing personal ambition over the sacred trust of parenthood. I am appalled!

  22. I just needed to leave a comment about the issue of Mrs. Palin in that she might become VP. Yes she is a mother of five children and with a baby… people are saying she isn’t right for the job and how can she be a good and effective mother to her children… why the double standards? Mr. Obama has young daughters and if he is to become president it would be very time consuming, he will hardly have a life of his own and him being president will take away precious time away from his young daughters as well. People really need to stop with the double standards!

  23. It looks like all who commented on Sarah Palin’s need to “stay home and raise her family” obviously don’t see the value of a father. Todd Palin appears to be a very committed father who can just as easily be the “stay-at-home parent”. Why do we teach our daughters they can grow up to do anything, but if there’s an issue at home, THEY have to be the one to postpone or quit their career? I would like to think that we have come farther than that….but after reading these posts, I wonder.

  24. How disappointing that the author of this fine website has injected politics into this usually excellent publication. This is NOT the place for this debate.

    Signed by a father who gladly spends more time than most at home so his spouse can share her gifts with others in her multiple careers.

  25. I am not surprised at the comments regarding Gov. Palin. I am the same age as she. I grew up in a time when our mothers were limited in their vocations & they encouraged my generation to go & do & be & become anything we wanted. I went to college, became an army officer, worked in community service & local government. I am now home with my children and will find someway to work again another day. I am blessed to do that & have a supportive husband that supports me. I do admire Gov. Palin as a woman with a passion for errors she identified. As a woman with passion for her family and her community – wanting to make a better place for her children. And I admire that she has a husband that helps & is a partner as a parent. I have 2 brothers-in-law that stay home with their children while their wives work. In arguing that she is somehow at fault for choices & wrong to run for VP we take from the efforts of the fathers. I believe that women can have it all – just not all at the same time. This is another time where her husband steps in to fill in where she can not along the way.