I want my kids to do well in EVERYTHING they do.
Ok, maybe I’m not that concerned with them getting the top scores in their video games.
But when it comes spelling tests. . .soccer games. . .piano lessons. . .Accelerated Reader (AR) points, I often think that my constructive advice or nagging about practice schedules is encouraging them to do their best. I believe that both my years of experience (who doesn’t have a certain amount of wisdom after 40+ years) and my omniscient mom awareness factor (definition: mom knows best), has the ability to serve my children well.
Well, that was until I saw “Brian” come off the soccer field a couple of weeks ago.
A second grader and an awesome player on Luke and Will’s soccer team, Brian walked off of the field from a scrimage and over to his mom sitting on the silver metal bleachers where the parents hang out to watch practices and games. He is one of our star players. . .he plays with confidence, zest, and skill. You can tell by looking at him that this is an athlete in the making. But, his mom thought that he could have done much better and she told him so. ” Why didn’t you. . .” she started with an accusatory tone and then proceeded with “You should have. . .”
The kid’s face fell about 16 stories. His seven year old (do I need to repeat that tender number? S-E-V-E-N) shoulders slumped and he looked toward the ground and aimlessly kicked the grass as his mother harshly continued. Now, she is a successful professional, so she has obviously achieved much in her life. I get it. She didn’t excel by being easy on herself and she wasn’t going to let her kid think that his effort on the field was enough.
Later that evening as I was telling Scott the story about this mom and Brian, he told me about one of the games he went to where a father was so taunting to his kid that the poor boy stopped by the sideline during the game and yelled to his dad, “It doesn’t matter how good I do, Dad. It is never good enough!”
Parents sometimes think that they are encouraging kids when in actuality they are harassing them. We think with just enough “parental guidance” our children will see how they need to change, make the changes, excel and go on to mouth, “THANKS MOM!” to the TV cameras.
A couple weeks later I was watching the PBS show, American Masters. In this segment featured tennis legend, Billy Jean King. (I encourage all moms and daughters to watch this wonderful documentary to learn more about how Title 9 opened the door for women athletes, and how Ms. King was instrumental in making sure that professional women athletes were paid what men were paid.) In it Ms. King says that when she told her dad that she wanted to play tennis at the local Country Club (they were not members and couldn’t afford to be), her dad agreed she could and then told her she needed to save enough money to buy a racket.
Billy Jean King played because more than anything she wanted to play. SHE had the drive. SHE wanted to be the best. SHE LOVED THE SPORT. And her dad encouraged her drive and love of tennis by requiring her to buy her own racquet. His involvement was basically, “If you want to play, then you must go out and achieve that dream. First, buy your own racquet.”
Can I tell you how much pressure this took off of me? Really? I don’t have to do or anything that “encourages” my child. Because deep down inside I somewhat wondered if the haranguing and the “suggestions” and the hyper-involvement of parents actually propelled a child to succeed.
Apparently not for one of the greatest tennis legends.
Well, maybe I don’t have to be silent about it. According to two different posts I read on parent involvement in children’s activities, there are only six words I need to say to my child: “I love to watch you play.” Rachel Stafford wrote in the Huffington Post that saying those words, and nothing more, were the most powerful words she could say to her children whether they were playing the ukulele or swimming in a competition.
In an article on the website Love and Logic, Dr. Jim Fay writes that his mom never nagged him about practicing his musical instrument. She would tell him, “I love to hear you play” and that was the encouragement he needed to practice knowing that his mom was enjoying his music.
So, on this Saturday when I watched Marc and Maddie play soccer and I saw how a couple of their team mates excelled because their parents had them also doing endurance and sprint training on the side, I thought to myself, “YES! Mine need to do that, too.” And then I thought of the extra money it would cost (it has to come from somewhere–our vacation fund?) and then the time I would have to devote to making sure they would get to and from the training in addition to all of the other things our family life seems to hold with ever sagging arms, and I thought, No. I am going to just love watching them play with all of their moments of glory and all of their quirks of growing.
I am going to be the one to practice. And, I’m going to practice saying, “I love to watch you play.”