“I know mom….don’t rub it in my face”…..
I overheard a daughter talking to her mother after her performance at an elite gymnastics qualifier this past winter. As those piercing words hit my ears….my heart sank. I ached for her. Both of them actually. To be fair, I didn’t hear the first part of the conversation but from the girl’s response I could make a pretty good inference…..I also didn’t see this child compete that day but I sure saw her heart as I shuffled past them. That one little phrase told me the whole story. A sad one. One marred with angst, stress and a longing for approval.
This interaction shook me and then something even more startling hit my level of awareness HARD as I was walking back into the ballroom where my daughter was getting ready to compete. It was just a few minutes prior to her leaving my side to join her team on the floor, when she sheepishly asked me “will you be mad at me if I fall off of everything?” “No, of course not” I said reassuringly… “Just do your best and have fun.” And I meant it.
That is our family mantra (always)~have fun and do your best…in sport, in school and in LIFE. Otherwise, what’s the point? As soon as those words left my lips I saw a sense of calm wash over her, the tension left her body and I felt her breathe in acceptance and love as we embraced before she set off to compete. But my mind was reeling now….why would she even ask me that?
My goal is always to potentiate her enJOYment of her sport~the “process” of simply showing up and trying her best on this scrutinizing stage WITHOUT added pressure from me. No strings attached… especially those strings invisibly applied to our own children. I can say this with confidence now because I’ve learned to stay out of the “weeds” of my children’s sports endeavors (but only because I’ve worked hard at being mindful of the way I SHOW UP FOR THEM). I promise you, it wasn’t always this way….it’s been a journey and an acquired skill.
But I’ve learned to become FULLY detached from the outcome because I want my daughter to be too. I want her to enjoy the PROCESS within the sport she loves instead of simply chasing scores and medals. Don’t get me wrong, those things are great reinforcers for her hard work and effort, but it’s really the inner work, the “process” that is the most valuable.
You might be wondering, what the heck does being detached from the outcome even mean? It doesn’t mean I don’t care if she does well or not. Of course I want her to succeed, but not at the cost of her happiness. It’s way to high a price to pay.
Gymnastics is no joke… especially the elite pathways….it’s the ultimate pressure cooker of sports if you ask me. Imagine standing alone on multiple events and being judged on every minuscule movement/skill that you literally get ONE shot at performing! You can hit every warm up and not make the one that counts or vice versa. It’s a mental chess match as much as a physical feat!! Nevertheless, it’s one singular moment in time….ONE data point. As a professional, if my entire career was judged on one meeting or presentation, or one client interaction, that would stink, right? Not to mention yield insurmountable pressure.
Our kids don’t need the added pressure. And they certainly don’t need it from their “safe people”. Moreover, it’s humanly impossible for us to “force” success from our vantage point in the stands, but we sure can “force” failure if our presence illicits anxiety and the belief that they can’t make mistakes”or else”. And it’s not the “or else” mentality of old, like they’ll get a knuckle sandwich at the end of the day (excuse me for being a bit crass here). Yet, it may be a worse fate of the “or else” ridicule they experience on the car ride home from their event. Can you tell this struck a chord with me? Why are so many parents doing this to their kids?
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve previously been guilty of this type of behavior but can proudly say that I’m a reformed “pressure parent”. And you know what~it’s a peaceful existence. I no longer sit through gymnastics meets or hockey games ready to puke with sweaty palms and visible anxiousness (that’s saying a lot for both a gymnast AND a goalie mom). But only because I came to the realization a few years back that I needed to change MY ways or I’d negatively impact my kiddos longevity in the sports THEY love. Cue the gut punch, right? In the end, I needed to accept that their sports have NOTHING to do with me. NADA!! Now, of course, I want to be an influencer in their lives, and I should be, but not in a over-critical, destructive way.
How have I done this? I’ve learned to change my ways of interacting with our kids about their high-level sports, about school and about many other things in their lives. I’ve detached from the outcomes, shut down the comparison trap, shunned impression management, and decided to take on the peaceful and purifying role of supporter and guide instead. This has helped move us all from a “perfectionism mentality” to embracing the PROCESS and the learning that occurs when they’re IN IT.
Now, if you’re committed to being a “pressure parent” because that works for you or because your kiddo “can take it” you’ll probably want to stop reading right here. But if, like I once did, you think you may need to “reform” and shape up your own behavior in big or small ways, stick with me for a moment. Because it’s really all about mindset and that emanates directly from US.
As parents we can DECIDE to stop chasing perfection in all of these areas and start enjoying the living and learning that is going on with our children right NOW. This begins with understanding that the learning is embedded in the DOING and when we suppress that, what is the outcome?
When our kids are little and developing, ALL WE DO is celebrate learning. We recount the “remember when” mistakes and all the ways they tried and fell short as some of our most precious life moments. Remember when they first tried to walk? We were mesmerized no matter how many times they stumbled because we celebrated GROWTH. Why does that stop as they get older?
I was reminded of this recently as I was un-decorating our Christmas tree. I paused on a homemade ornament my oldest son made in pre-k (pictured above). The mistake makes it more precious, doesn’t it? And yes, he eventually mastered printing his name, but like for ALL OF US, at one point that was a BIG DEAL!! A massive milestone. So when we scold our kids for lack of perfection we miss the big picture that “learning is happening here” and what’s more, we miss the grander opportunity to connect and guide them towards self-acceptance and resilience which are critical life skills.
As I sat watching the rest of warm up and the eventual meet, one of my most favorite Brene Brown quotes kept finding its way to the forefront of my mind, and that day I actually saw it on a whole new light. “If you are not IN THE ARENA also getting your ass kicked I’m not interested in your feedback”.
This quote always evokes a BIG response from me about the relevance of other people’s opinions in my own life….Essentially, if you are not the one DOING you have no business JUDGING. My friends, this applies to us as parents too. You are not in the ARENA with your kids and their coaches. Please don’t be the stadium sitters jeering the contenders….questioning everything or belittling their efforts. It’s THEIR thing… they are battling it out….Let them. And then lift them up~no matter what their performance “looked” like that day.
Celebrate the EFFORT-the learning- with LOVE. That’s what they need MOST from you. Unconditional acceptance, a guiding hand to grasp; and mostly, WELCOMING arms to show them that they are your WORLD….win, lose or scratch.
Bottom line…when our kids step off of the floor, the field, the court, or the rink, they shouldn’t be worried about facing their parents. Our children ARE NOT their sports, or their grades or their grandest achievements. They are our BABES, full of life and wonder and a willingness to learn…. let’s not STIFLE that in them.
Let’s meet them right WHERE THEY ARE on their personal learning curve and lovingly walk with them along the way. In my opinion, that is the most incredible privilege of being a parent. So let’s allow our kids to do the sporting and the coaches do the coaching, while we take our backstage roles as emotional support extraordinaires ! I promise, it’s the most prominent role of ALL!!
When Soph came off the floor that day dressed in an ear to ear smile because she hit her personal goal (not mistake free, be darn good enough) I met her with a huge hug and words of encouragement, like I always do… “Great job! “I loved watching you do your thing today”! I’m so proud!! How did it feel? What was your most favorite part?” And THAT’S IT!!
Notice I don’t ask what happened on X event? Why wasn’t your toe pointed on Y skill? Or if she forget skill Z was supposed to be in her routine? Because I’m a reformed “pressure parent”, remember!?? We leave it positive and encouraging of the EFFORT and the success that comes from being open to putting herself OUT THERE and leaning into the learning that can only be gained from these experiences. Then we move on with life….We go back to being just a mom and just a daughter.
Final thought my friends, for one brief moment let’s transport back to the mother and daughter scene that galvanized this post. Try to visualize in your minds eye what may have incited such a response in her child…..what did she say? How did it sound? How did it feel to say it? How did it feel to receive it? Now, if someone else spoke to your child that way, or made them feel “less than” in any possible way following a performance, wouldn’t you go bananas? I certainly would. So why on earth would we do that to our OWN CHILDREN….the precious BRAVEHEARTS that look to us for the most important lessons in life?
Let’s ALL DO BETTER.
Let’s Stop…Breathe…Embrace & Handle them with CARING. No strings attached. Except heartstrings of course…
LOVE is always the answer.
With Big Much Love,