Pokémon Go Will Save Us?

Are you competitive? Is your child?

I learned about competition when I joined my neighborhood swim team when I was in elementary school. It only took one meet for me to recognize that if I was going to enjoy being on the team I needed to be competitive. The transition from not being aware of the benefits of being competitive to understanding them was quick. By the next meet, I was in it to win it. I was going to swim my fastest, I wanted to win!

My oldest son has also embraced his competitive side. He enjoys sports and is always looking to try something new to test his skills and capabilities. He is passionate about winning and struggles with defeat.  I have questioned why we place such a high value on competition based on seeing the highs and lows my son has experienced, and I have in competitive situations.

I came across the documentary, I Am, several years ago thanks to Oprah.  Tom Shadyac was exploring happiness after experiencing great success (winning!) but not feeling happy. He invited scientists and other subject matter experts to explore the topic with him and the output was the documentary. One idea that emerged was that the long-term survival of species (ants, for example) depended largely on cooperation. In these species cooperation is highly valued and competition has low/no value. Being a competitive ant doesn’t serve the colony well. It would in fact, be counter to a colony’s survival. Humans still have a ways to go. Our children aspire to be elite athletics, movie starts, singer or someone ‘famous.’ Competition to be number 1 is still fierce, but what if cooperation became more highly valued and easy (or easier) to achieve?

My oldest son loves Pokémon Go. It’s become something he and I have connected over. We take walks together so he can play, and I play Pokémon Go when I travel so he and I can stay connected. He asked me to take him to a local park that is known for having lots of Pokémon. When we got to the park, I was amazed. There were literally hundreds of people–mainly kids but also teens and adults, of all shapes and sizes, colors and creeds–all working together to catch Pokémon. Pokémon present themselves to you on your device, if you and other Pokémon players are in the same location, it presents the same Pokémon to all, not a select few. So instead of people fighting over who is going to catch the Pokémon, everyone has an equal chance. It then becomes a matter of what technique you use (candy, great ball, ultimate ball, etc.) to catch the Pokémon. In the park, not only were the players sharing information about where the Pokémon were that they were finding, but what techniques they were using to catch the Pokémon so others could catch them to. It was cooperation at it’s finest. Observing everyone working together was really inspiring. While I was reluctant to embrace Pokémon Go when it first launched based on some of the initial press the game was getting, I’ve become a fan. And after seeing what I did at the park, I’m an even bigger fan. If something like this game can bring people together, just think of the possibilities for the human race.

Where have you seen people working together in an unexpected place? Where have you, or your child, found cooperation outdo competition?

Competition for 1

With the start of the summer Olympics, I’m reminded how much value we place on competition.

My sons are taking lessons this summer to help strengthen their swimming skills. My oldest shared how nervous he was prior to the first lesson. “Mom, what if I don’t do well and they send me back to the beginners class with the little kids?” I could understand his anxiety, he hadn’t really swam much since the prior summer and needed to re-acclimate himself with being in the pool. His stress waned once he started swimming and he did well enough to stay in the advance class. He wasn’t the most advanced and needed instruction from his teacher on several of the strokes, but he listened and was able to do what his teacher asked.

Before a lesson several weeks later my son once again expressed his concern. “Mom, I’m not as good as the other kids. They’re all better than I am.” I understood how he could feel this way, but thought he might be looking at this all wrong. “This isn’t a competition,” I said, “the only one you are competing with here is yourself. Instead of comparing how good you are against the other swimmers, compare yourself to how you did last week. Did you improve on any of your skills? Were you able to do something better than you did before?” I could tell I had got him thinking. “Thanks, Mom,” he said and headed off to get into the pool.

I wasn’t sure if I had really gotten through to him, or if he was saying thanks to end the conversation. 🙂 Following the lesson we were walking back home when he said, “Mom, I improved on some things today!” He was very excited, and I was too — he actually had taken what I’d said to heart. He shared how he had improved on his kick and how we’d learned how to turn his body so he could stroke and kick at the same time. He was very proud of what he had done, and so was I.

There is much competition in the world. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. We learn this as a child and often cling to it as an adult as a measure of our worth. Talking to my son about this made me rethink how I compare myself to others., and that life really is a competition for one.

How do you deal with competition? How are you helping your child?

 

Parenting is a Team Sport

Have you ever felt like parenting is a competition?

It’s a topic I often cover when speaking to parenting groups–being a parent can feel like many things including a rite of passage to see how we (as parents) can out do each other, or how our kids can. It starts when our child is very young — whose sleeping better through the night, eating better, rolling over first, standing up, walking, etc. We are proud of our child hitting a developmental milestone, and want to believe their success is largely due to our parenting skills, but in reality it is more a mixture of our child’s innate capabilities and disposition, which may or may not have been influenced by us.

While we may feel like competition is only between other parents, a topic that isn’t often spoken of is competition between the parents themselves. Competition between parents can be just as common, and is not limited to couples who are divorced. Competition between a couple can be more subtle in how it shows up: a child feels they can confide in one parent more than they can another and the parent who is left out feels sadness the child doesn’t have (or maybe want) to have the same relationship with them, or competition can arise when one parent connects/relates easily with their child, while the other struggles. There are many different ways the feeling of competition can arise, but parenting is not a competition; it’s about doing what’s right for our child, not us. This can be hard to keep front and center when we have our competitive juices flowing.

My husband took our oldest to his flag football game over the weekend. My younger son and I were going to meet them there closer to game time and were just about to head out the door when my husband called and said, “Don’t go anywhere, we’re coming home.” When they got home I asked what happened. I found out that our son was getting frustrated with what the coach was asking him to do. He was struggling to do the practice drill and was showing his frustration. Instead of being respectful to the coach and listening to what the coach was saying, he was getting more and more angry, and talking back. My husband told my son to calm down and be respectful, or we’re going home. My son jumped at the chance and said, “Fine, let’s go home.” I could tell by the look in my husband’s eyes when he told me that he hadn’t thought his threat would turn out the way it did. He had thought our son would calm down, and listen to the coach, because he wanted to play in the game. But he was stuck, like many of us when we may threats and are kids call us on it (anyone have to leave the restaurant or theatre — places you wanted to go, and then your child starts misbehaving or act up, and you threaten you’ll leave if they don’t calm down and they say basically indicate they never wanted to be there in the first place? Ugh!). I said, “Oh no, you are going to the game. That’s not fair to your team, but you’re not playing. You have to earn the right to play and you lost that right in the way you acted.  You are going to go there and support them — you are going to be their #1 cheerleader today, and you’re going to apologize to the coach for your behavior.” My son looked at me like he couldn’t believe this hadn’t happened earlier, and said, “Okay.” We got in the car and went to the field. He didn’t play, he did cheer and he apologized to the coach — not once, but twice. My hope was that he would understand you can never walk away when things get tough, you can’t let your actions let down a larger group (your team), and there are consequences, sometimes uncomfortable ones like apologizing to a coach, when you behave a certain way.

Later that night my husband and I were talking about what happened. Without discussing it, we easily could have been filed this incident in the competition file, where one parent did the “right” thing and the other did the “wrong” thing (one is a better parent than the other — see how easy situations can have that competitive feel?)…but that’s not the way we viewed it. Instead, one of us experienced, with the best intentions, a misstep and the other helped them recover. We are a team, and need each other’s help. Parenting is a team sport, not an individual one. We have certainly had scenarios where my husband helped bail me out of a misfired threat. We learn each time we experience this together, and allow ourselves the chance to discuss, reflect, and think about how we would handle the situation differently in the future. We get better together.

Have you ever felt like you were competing with another parent or your spouse? How do you parent as a team, versus as an individual?

Go Team!

The Great Football Debate

Are you a parent who has concerns about letting your child play football?

I have shared in previous posts that my oldest son loves football and really wants to play. I love watching college football, and partly blame myself for getting him interested in the sport to begin with. My husband and I have allowed our son to play flag football up to this point. While we were hoping that would appease his desire to play the game, you can see his desire to play full-contact football everytime he watches a game, sees a high school player suited up, or walks into a sporting goods store. When he saw that you could buy football pads and helmets in a store you could see his eyes light up with delight. You could almost read his mind. I want those pads.

Our son recently asked about playing contact football with my husband and I. “I want to play!” he pleaded. My immediate response was “no way.” I followed it up with many talking points that backed up my position — it’s not safe, too many people get hurt, it can negatively impact your long-term quality of life, etc. My son didn’t hear anything after I said “no.” Instead of hearing me out, like any nine year old, he got more passionate with his plea. “You have to let me play. You just have to.” His petition lasted a full five minutes. He seems to have some talent (according to his biased mom), but even if he physically can compete, I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for him to. While I wasn’t willing to budge, my husband was willing to hear him out. “We’ll consider it when you are in high school, and you show us you can compete, not get hurt and keep up your grades.”  My initial reaction was “what?”, but after thinking about it for a minute it made sense. Forbidding our son from playing would only make him want to play it more. I don’t want my child to miss out on experiencing something he wants to, but I also want to protect him and am responsible for helping him make good decisions. Allowing him to play football right now isn’t something I’m willing to do. I’m hoping (hopeful?) that with all the evidence and news around body and brain injuries in the sport, more will be done to make it safer so kids can enjoy the sport without having to sacrifice long-term health.

How do you talk to your child when they want to try something you’re not comfortable with them doing?

 

Stretch Goal

As a child, did you ever push yourself, or have someone encourage you to try something new? How did you handle doing something you weren’t comfortable doing?

I was encouraged periodically during my childhood this way, and I always experienced the same feelings: fear (what if I’m not good, what if this is a disaster), nervousness (I want to do well but am afraid I may make a fool of myself and people will laugh at me), and curiosity (what if I can do it? How cool would that be?). While my fear and nerves would initially deter me from taking on the new challenge, curiosity almost always won out. I had to figure out if I could indeed accomplish the new task or not. Even if I wasn’t perfect, or great, being able to say I did something new successfully (even in the slightest way) was a real confidence booster for me.

My oldest son recently joined a soccer league. He’s been playing soccer since he was young, but has never played in an official game. He knows how to play soccer, but doesn’t understand all the rules (my husband and I didn’t play soccer growing up ourselves, so we’re not much help here either, unfortunately). My son was reluctant to go to the first team practice. “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to play soccer,” he said. We reminded him that he was committed, we had already paid for him to play when he said he wanted to sign up. We inquired further, “What’s really going on? You love soccer, and have many friends that are on the team. Are you nervous? If so, that’s normal. Most people get nervous when they are trying new things.” You could tell he was thinking about what we were saying. I added, “The coach’s job is to teach you. He’ll help you learn the rules of the game.” My son seemed to find some comfort in this. I finished with “You might even have fun.” He still was nervous about playing, but was becoming curious about whether he might be able to play on the team, and enjoy it.

As he and my husband left the house to walk down to the field I felt for him. I know that nervous feeling, that uncertainty that comes with trying something new. I knew he would be fine, but hated that he had to experience it. No parent wants to see their child suffer. Yet, I knew he’d grow from it, and gain confidence in the simple act of showing up and trying. My husband said about ten minutes into practice our son was all smiles and his worries seemed a distant memory. It was comforting to hear.

How do you experience trying new things? How do you encourage your child to try something new?

Read This!

I was fortunate enough to see a family member participate in a city-wide reading competition. I had never heard of a reading competition before. I thought perhaps it had to do speed reading, but learned it had nothing to do with that at all. Instead, the competition was based on 4th and 5th graders who were given a list of 10 books to read. They then participated in competitions where they were asked a series of questions (some multiple choice, true/false or short answer) that tested the kids knowledge and comprehension of the books.

It was one of the best competitions I’ve ever seen. There were several things I really liked about it. First, the books the kids had to read were all educational: they taught the kids about the world, appreciation for different cultures and experiences. Second, the teams had to work closely together to come up with their answers. It was similar to watching a team sport where everyone needs each other to be successful. Third, the supporters: parents, classmates and family members (such as myself), were rooting for all of the kids — it was impossible not to. These kids had learned so much and were so eager to work as a team. Yes, you may have wanted your child (or family member) team to come out on top, but it was clear that all of these kids had and were accomplishing something great regardless who the “winner” was. When the winner was named, it was a non-event. It seemed like the best part (the actual competition) was over, and this was an after-thought. I’ve never experienced anything like it, but certainly hope to again.

In an age where competition is king, it gives me hope that there are competitions like this one. The kids learned, they had fun and even got to showcase their talents on a big (public) stage with people rooting them on.

What competitions has your child participated in that seemed different from the rest? What brings the best out in your child?

The Envelope Please…

There is something seductive about the Oscar ceremony. You watch an award show for people clearly gifted in their talent, looking their finest, with great attention to detail, including the envelopes that hold the names of the winners. The seduction part is how easy it is to believe that personal success and accomplishment comes only from winning an award. That your ability to be successful is determined by others (those deciding who win the awards) and not you.

As an adult this isn’t lost on me. I bought into the notion that success was measured by others early in my career and continued to believe it until I had children of my own. Who doesn’t want to win an award for their work? Who doesn’t want to be recognized or acknowledged for their skills?

As a parent I don’t want my children to buy into this idea that success is determined by anyone but them. A statue, trophy or plaque is lovely to receive and feels good, but it doesn’t define who you are as a person. It doesn’t define if your work or life is a success.

My boys are at the age where they are exposed to competition at school and in the play yard. My oldest loves keeping score. When he loses he gets upset. He gets angry with frustration when he tries his hardest and the end score doesn’t reflect his efforts. “I did so good,” he says with a mixture of surprise, and disappointment, “how come my score isn’t better?” His face scrunches up and he balls up his fists. He makes a errrr sound in frustration. My husband and I talk to our so about the progress that he made when he played and while he may not have won, how he is getting more skilled and improving every time he tries. “Everything you want to be good at takes practice,” we tell him, “and lots of it.” You can see his mind working. It’s a good opportunity for us to teach him about what success really is.

“Do you have to win to be successful?” I ask my son. He looks up at me with questioning eyes, like he wants to say yes, but realizes I wouldn’t ask this question if it were the answer. I continue, “success is when you learn something about yourself and grow. You might receive a statue, trophy or medal along the way, but those items don’t determine who you are. You do.” He seems to understand what I’m saying, but you can still see he’d prefer to just win trophies, or get the highest score. Just like I did as a kid.

What is success for you? What is success for your child? How do you help them determine the value they bring?

A Little Competition

I was recently having coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while and we were getting caught up on what was going on with our kids. Our local team is in the NFL Playoffs and the city has football fever. It prompted us to discuss our boys and athletics. She shared her son was in soccer and was amazed how quickly kids embrace being competitive. She commented that she and her husband had gotten caught up in cheering him on and wanting him to do well. Her comments resonated with me, as I’m sure they would with most parents.

When I speak to parenting groups I often talk about competition as part of the discussion. Remember when your child was born and you had them around other children their age?  if you are like most of us, you probably compared notes on where your child is with their developmental milestones. There was probably a conversation that mentioned something to the effect of: my child is ________ (fill in the blank: sleeping through the night, pulling themselves up, walking, eating solid food, never (or rarely) fusses, etc.). While the conversation isn’t about a sport, it is about how quickly or gracefully your child is progressing, and can start to feel as though your ability to parent is dependent on how quickly your child reaches a milestone. It can create great anxiety for a parent, particularly a new one. Just learning to care for the daily needs of your child, and taking care of yourself can be overwhelming, you don’t come into parenting thinking “I can’t wait to start competing with other parents!” None of us do.

As I talk to parenting groups I mention competition so the participants are aware that this feeling is normal and starts much earlier than many think. It also provides a great opportunity for each of us, as parents, to really understand how we view competition and what we want to teach our children about competition.  Do you thrive to compete and win individually? Do you prefer to collaborate and win as a team? Will you do anything not to compete? How much of your identity is associated with performance? What role does competition play into your “success” (as a person, or parent)?

Both of our sons play soccer in a non-competitive soccer league. We chose this league for a few reasons: the league had a good reputation and large membership (our thinking was: they must be on to something), and my husband and I needed to get clarity for ourselves on the role competition played in our own identities and how much we wanted it to play into our children’s.  I swam on a swim team as a child and learned that if I worked hard, I could win. I also learned that if I worked hard, the results would be better than if I didn’t. The second lesson was a much more valuable lesson for me as an adult. My husband ran on a cross country team. He learned that if he worked hard, his endurance to run long distances surpassed his expectations, sometimes resulting in him winning the competition. He also learned that sticking to something pays off in the long run, a valued lesson he’s leveraged as an adult.

Our boys view soccer in completely different ways. Our oldest wants to score goals and win games. My husband and I have always reiterated to our boys that they are in soccer to learn how to play and have fun, we don’t care if they score many goals or none at all. Our oldest has heard us say this numerous times, but continues to want to win. It’s more than that though, he wants to demonstrate that his hard work translates into successful results. We can certainly understand this desire, but continue to work with him on the dangers of this thinking. Having successful results is not always possible, no matter how well you prepare. It can be a slipper slope to feeling negatively about yourself and your capabilities when you aren’t able to achieve or maintain the results you desire or expect. Our youngest son could care less about being competitive. In fact, we’ve considered taking him out of soccer a few times, because he seems more interested in laughing and having fun than in learning to play. He continues to play because it keeps him active and he is having fun (that was one of the reason we said they were in soccer class after all).

As a parent it is easy to engage in the competition of parenting, the key is noticing it’s going on, and being clear on the role it plays in your life today and the role you want it to play in your child’s.

How does parenting feel like a competition? Do you feel like you’re competing with other parents, or is your child competing with other children, or both? What role do you want competition to play in your child’s life? What lesson(s) do you hope they will take or learn from it?

Cup of Life

My oldest son raced through the door one day after school, threw his backpack on the floor, and turned to me and said, “Don’t forget to come watch me dance tomorrow at the assembly.” What dance? What assembly? What are you talking about? I thought. He hadn’t mentioned anything about learning a dance or about an assembly until that afternoon. I quickly emailed some of the classroom parents to see what they might know. Sure enough a note quickly came back confirming my son, along with his class, would be doing a dance during the afternoon assembly the following day.

Oh no, I thought, what am I going to do? I’ve got a job. I’ve got commitments. I’ve got meetings! I tried to let my son gently know that I would try my best to be at his assembly the next day, but I had commitments that I had made, and responsibilities I needed to keep. He looked at me as seriously as I’ve ever seen him look and say, “Mom, I know you’ll make it.” I knew the assembly meant a lot to him, and even though I wish I’d had more warning, I knew I’d have to give it my best shot. After a couple of deep breaths, I logged onto my computer and saw that I had a window of time that coincided with when the assembly would be and would be able to attend after all. What a relief!

I arrived at his school and watched as his class came in. He met my eyes and got the biggest smile on his face. He signaled a “thumbs up” and I gave him one in return. It turned out not only was his class performing, but all the classes in his school were performing, it was quite a treat. Each class danced to a different song and style of music. Their routines allowed members of each class to show their individual dance style. My son’s class danced to Ricky Martin’s “Cup of Life.” The song’s chorus concludes with Ale Ale Ale, a with music and cheering at sporting events, like ole. It’s a celebratory phrase commonly associated with music and sporting events. I thought the phrase was perfect for my son and his class’s performance.

It was rewarding to see these kids who danced without inhibition. They all wanted to do a good job, you could see the concentration on their faces, but you could also see the joy, and fun they were having. Each class cheered the other on. It was quite a display of support and encouragement.

As my son’s class danced so energetically to their song, I thought, this is what life is all about—working together, playing together, enjoying each other without worrying about being judged, or made fun of–it truly captured what life, or the cup of life, is and should be.

Ale ale ale

Which Way are you Leaning?

What’s a mother to do? We give birth, we take our child home, we start to care for it, and then we are faced with the decision—to go back to work or not.  Of course, some of us will have decided prior to having our child that we won’t return to the workforce because we don’t want to, or financially it doesn’t make sense.  Some of us know we will return to work and it becomes an issue of how soon, and then there are the rest who are on the fence.

And here our quandary begins. Perhaps we’ve invested time in our careers and are making our way up the corporate ladder and want to continue our climb. Perhaps we have a profession we’re passionate about. Or perhaps we need the money, want continued contact with adults, or know that work gives a sense of purpose you haven’t found anywhere else.  You weigh the pros and cons of staying home with your child and not working (maybe temporarily, maybe permanently), and you weigh it and you weigh it and you weigh it. And while ultimately you go with the decision you feel is best you can’t quite shake that nagging voice in the back of your head. Am I taking something away from myself if I stay home? Am I taking something away from my child if I work?

And now the dialogue is no longer being kept to ourselves, or amongst our working mother friends. It’s being discussed out in the open. Oh goodness! Why Women Still Can’t Have it All by Anne-Marie Slaughter was published in the July/August 2012 edition of The Atlantic. Her article encouraged a dialogue between working women, to understand the obstacles women still face to reach the highest professional levels while raising children, and encouraged men, who are expressing a desire to be more involved in the raising of their children, to join in the situation.

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, encourages women to be “at the table” professionally, take risks, and pursue your desired career. She also mentions men playing more of a role in the rearing of the child and household responsibilities.

I can understand why reactions to both the article and the book have been strong.  Each gave me pause. What do you mean women can’t have it all? And Lean In—I didn’t realize I was leaning out.  Do I really have to do more than what I’m already doing?

What really bothered me wasn’t the article, book or their content. It was the emotions they were triggering in me—guilt, anger, relief and hope.  Quite a range of emotions, don’t you think?  I still have guilt about putting both boys in daycare when they were young. I know I am a better mom than I would have been a stay home mom (I think stay-at-home moms are amazing), but it didn’t take the guilt away. I was angry because I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at in my career while fighting hard to maintain boundaries specific to the hours that I work and the time I spend away from the family because of it.  I felt relief because someone was finally talking about this—I’ve often felt alone in my daily struggle to do what’s best for my children, spouse and myself. Lastly, I felt hope. Hope that we’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg and more conversations will take place between spouses, partners, companies and communities. That we will reach equality in the home and in the workforce, and as a country we’ll figure out how to better support families so that we not only can survive but also thrive together.

The question, “can women have it all?” makes me think should we want to have it all? and what does having it all mean? I think our kids should have it all—involved parents working for supportive companies and communities that value our future generation more than sustaining a culture of workaholics.

We’ve got some work to do, and I’m leaning towards whatever will get us there.

Which way are you leaning?