This past weekend, I spent a lot of time sitting poolside wringing my hands. Mostly over my 10-year-old, Jonah — who was seeded second in at least one event at his first USA swim meet.
I wanted him to do well but was worried he wouldn’t. He is young and inexperienced and doesn’t always do well at bigger meets. By the end of the first day, I found myself wondering why I was so stressed. And more importantly, did I want him to do well for him or for me?
I started thinking about this after a conversation I had with a friend while waiting for our kids to swim. She was telling me about another mom who wanted her daughter to beat my friend’s daughter and told her so. I know parents like that, I told her. They are living their dreams through their kids.
But after I said that, I started thinking about myself. Why do I get so stressed when my kids swim, or play lacrosse or participate in any competitive sport? Why do I find myself so downhearted when they don’t do well and elated when they do? Do I want them to succeed for their own happiness or to give me some sense of purpose?
I don’t really know the answer, but just by asking myself the question, I feel like I can attempt to keep myself in check. When Jonah finished swimming his second day, I made sure to ask him if he had fun. I tried not to focus on his times or what place he came in. He was curious about his performance, but was satisfied with how he did — even if he added time or placed behind where he was seeded. He did well on many of his swims but he didn’t get discouraged when he didn’t do as well. He never compared himself to the other swimmers, so why should I? If he is happy, I should be happy.
I’m still not sure exactly why I want my kids to succeed in sports. I hope it’s because I truly want them to be happy and to grow in confidence. But there may still be a little part of me that wants it for me — for the glory of having given birth to a talented kid.
Whether it’s for them or me, I’m trying to keep whatever misplaced competitive nature I feel on the inside from showing on the outside. I don’t want them to feel stress or any pressure to succeed. I know for a fact that even if they are phenoms, it’s no good for them or me if they aren’t having fun.
FranklyStein is a blog by Chesapeake Family Magazine editor Betsy Stein who lives in Catonsville with her husband, Chris, and four children, Maggie, 15, Lilly, 14, Adam, 14, and Jonah, 10.