As usual, when my family headed into another calendar year, we reflected on the days past and resolved to make positive changes in the future. I asked each of my kids to spend some time thinking about 2014, so they could set some realistic goals for 2015. My two oldest daughters both said they want to learn to play guitar. My middle child wants to learn how to do a back hand spring, and the jury is still out on the boys. I’m guessing, at five years old, their goal would have something to do with becoming the strongest man in the world or learning how to fly.
I would love one of my children to play an instrument. Having been cursed with tone deafness, and also, cruelly, a love of music, hearing a melody created at the hands of one of my children would be a joy. Outwardly, I encourage the ambition, but I am doubtful they will ever achieve it. I don’t believe they are genetically limited, their father can carry a pleasant tune, I just don’t know how they will find the time. Sports, which for years has been a huge part of their lives, is taking up more and more of their time. No longer is it enough to play in a recreation league, if they want to play “competitively”, they have to be on at least one travel team, sometimes two for the same sport. We are led to believe if they have any hope of playing in high school — not college mind you, we all know that’s not in their cards — they need to put in a lot of time, attend extra clinics and generally live, eat and breathe the sport.
When the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was released, many people in suburbia were quick criticize Amy Chua for the pressure she puts on her kids and the emphasis she puts on scholastics and musical achievement. All the while, many of us are hypocritically substituting homework, social and family time for athletics. We fork over what amounts in a year to thousands of dollars, for the privilege of our children being on “elite” teams. The owners of these elite teams continue to add more and more players (amazing how many talented players there are), because after all, it is booming business with no recession in sight.
Write us a check, and we will make your child a superstar. Don’t write the check, and they are destined to wallow forever in the land of athletic mediocrity, heaven forbid. We follow small athletes around to far away fields like aging groupies. With five children, I can’t get to every game. I’ve stopped trying because the hectic, busy nature of the weekends was starting to take a toll, but the guilt knowing almost every other kid has a parent on the sidelines, takes a different kind of toll. Seems I can’t win.
My children are over scheduled. Luckily, they are good students, and I try to make sure school is the priority. I know academics will get them a lot further in life than the ability to kick a ball. Yet, if they had a ton of studying to do and a game that same night, I know 9 times out of 10, I would make them go to the game. I tell myself it is teaching them time management and the importance of living up to your commitments, but perhaps I am also worried the coach will be mad, or they will miss an opportunity the other kids are getting. I’m wholly and sadly aware of my problem, and I struggle with a solution. I even struggle with mustering the energy to look for a solution. All this carpooling, after all, is exhausting.
I hear parents define themselves by the sport their kids play. “We are a hockey family.” “I’m a soccer mom.” It’s a strange phenomenon, one that I am sure psychologists can boil down to fear, feelings of inadequacy, parental competitiveness and vicarious living. I hear parents, with a none too obvious hint of pride, talk about how busy they are and how they have no time for themselves because of all the sports their kids play.
How did it come to this? We are a society absurdly awed by and envious of athletic ability in kids. We give up everything from an adult social life to our sanity to watch children play. It is bordering on a sickness in some, and the kids will ultimately pay the price for being their parents’ primary source of entertainment and pride. In addition to being pathetic, it is just too much pressure. I like watching my kids play, but I don’t think being at every game makes you a better parent. Standing at a distance from someone while shouting at them, is never going to improve a relationship.
What’s the answer? I don’t know. I wish I did. I do know my youngest children will benefit from their sisters’ experiences. I am determined to give them a broader viewpoint, complete with music and art appreciation, and exposure to greater knowledge. I want to be a mother who fuels their curiosity and helps to answer their questions. I don’t want to just be a chauffeur and a cheerleader. I will support them if they want to try new sports, but I will never use the excuse, “they just love it” as a reason to sign them up for every clinic and team available. After all, they “just love” chocolate, but I don’t let them eat it day and night. I am going to de-emphasize sports and emphasize friends, kindness, school and life experiences.
That’s what I am saying today. I know things can change, and I can again be sucked into the wide, wacky world of kids’ sports. As an older mom, I’ve learned to never say never. But for now, for today, my goals are noble. My young kids need me to make a life for them. I never want to look to them to make a life for me. Being a spectator, even of your beloved kids, is no way to go through life.