Holding My Sons’ Hearts

By: Peggy Willms

(First published in BizCatalyst360 on 4/21/2023)

(4 min read)

When I asked, “What was the most difficult raising your sons?” It doesn’t take long to answer, “Trying to protect their hearts.”

It became very clear early on that both of my sons were going to be athletic. Though they were seven years apart, they played the same sports, soccer, baseball, and football, and raced motorcycles. My oldest was seven when he got his first bike and began racing. My youngest started at four.

With extreme, high-adrenaline sports such as motocross or supercross, one expects it will not only be expensive but take immense dedication and focus to compete at high levels. Oh, and then there are all of the broken bones.

In order to stay at the top of their game, my sons were required to maintain their grades and attendance in addition to their nutrition and physical.

Physical injury is 100% guaranteed when racing competitively. It is not a matter of if, but when. And it happens over and over again. Along with physical injuries, comes broken hearts. No one likes defeat. My sons’ goals were clear since they smelled their first whiff of 105-octane race gas. They wanted state and national titles.

It didn’t take long before my sons realized that with the wins come losses, and with the losses, comes intense desires to win. And it was on repeat. Their internal drive is hard to explain. Some people are just hard-wired to compete. And they pushed their bodies and minds to the limit.

By the time my sons were in their 20s, I think we had all shed enough blood, sweat, and tears to fill the Atlantic Ocean. They were some of the most joyous years of our lives. We spent every minute together for years, practicing, racing, traveling, exercising, and more.

I could face any of their physical injuries. Darting onto the track after one of them crashed jumping an 80-foot triple, came naturally to me. Loading them into an ambulance, adjusting their external fixators, and hanging out in the surgery waiting rooms with shoulder, collarbone, back, leg, or ankle surgeries, came naturally to me. Operating at fight or flight is my drug.

What I couldn’t handle was their broken hearts. A broken heart from losing a race, being bullied, having jealous friends, or when a relationship failed… killed me.

One of my children wears his emotions on his sleeve. The other one keeps them locked up like Ft. Knox. I can be a badass, handle anything thrown at me, and climb mountains, but if you break one of my baby’s hearts, I will either come out swinging or I might drop to my knees in a writhing mess.

My youngest son was bullied in elementary school. His interest in style and white-frosted hair made him an easy target. He kept it together at school but would race home in tears with a combination of hurt, anger, and wonderment as to why people could be so mean.

I started saying something to my sons very early, “When your name is in somebody else’s mouth, good or bad, that means you have made it.” At first, that didn’t make any sense to them. If somebody is talking about you, whether it’s to your face or behind your back, whether it is positive or negative, you have become a big enough deal that you are either a threat or they actually admire you. Likely it also has nothing to do with you. They are facing their own triggers and learning to cope with their own feelings. It truly is just an internal reflection of their trials.

A second mantra I told my sons and still remind myself, “What says about you is not your business.” That one took a long time to explain.

As adults, we still face bullying, especially in the workplace Social media has also created an opportunity to hide behind a keyboard and make others feel less than. There are snide remarks made at the boardroom table, there is trash-talking on social media or in friend groups, and my advice is changed a little bit along the way.

I still struggle when my sons have their hearts broken, and I don’t think that will ever end.

When my youngest son was 21, he spent four months learning to walk again after a tragic motorcycle accident left him with shattered ankles. We all strapped in, assumed our roles for rehab and recovery, and got him the best surgeon and rehab possible, and he’s walking today. My oldest has broken his back twice, and we battled through that. Between the two of them, they have had over 20 fractures. but when they are upset because their dog is in pain or someone is being unfaithful or untruthful to them, I melt like cotton candy in a bucket of water.

Regardless of how difficult it is, my ears and arms are always wide open for them. Talking about emotions has marginally improved over the last few decades. However, men still find it a struggle. Here it is 2023, and there is still a stigma for men to talk about what’s going on in their hearts. What really makes them angry, what scares them out of their mind, and how do they turn a negative into a positive way and not give up or want to hurt themselves?

As parents, we know that there are tons of manuals and workbooks out there to guide us on the basics, but until you live it, you can’t always learn it.  

I am so blessed to have a close relationship with my sons. Of course, I don’t want to know every single thing going on in their life, oh my gosh, can you imagine, but they do know I am an open book and an open door if they need to discuss anything. With me, they know they’re safe, they will receive true and honest feedback, and I will always leave them with positivity and motivation so that they can push through their hardship. But it doesn’t make it any easier for me to sit back and watch their heartstrings be pulled. I remind myself constantly that it’s their life path, and I am just a blessed player in their game of self-discovery.

I’m about ready to become a grandmother for the second time, I often wonder what role I will play in their life. Will I be the one that they call and beg, “Please don’t tell Mom and Dad?” Will I be the one that they want to visit every summer because Disney World is only a few hours away? Will I be the one that they race to the mailbox to see if I sent him a card with some money in it? Who knows. But I can tell you one thing I will repeat the same mantras I have, if your name is in somebody else’s mouth, positive or negative, that means you’ve made it. And, what someone else says about you is none of your business.

A win is a win, but a loss is an opportunity to learn. It hurts to see any of my baby’s hearts be broken.  A broken bone can be put back together again.

It’s interesting when I think of hearts and my family tree. There have been heart “issues” for generations. My grandmother had a pacemaker, my aunt and mother both had to have heart ablations and my grandson, Crew, had open-heart surgery at five months old.


Peggy Willms
                                                                     All Things Wellness, LLC

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