March Madness

What does March Madness make you think of?

Basketball right? I would agree with that, up until I a few years ago when I realized March is the month where a culmination of things come together: the first flowers of Spring start to bloom, time change (Spring forward), St. Patrick’s Day, and, the NCAA basketball tournaments.

As a parent, this month always seems to go by in a flash. My boys and I were just admiring the first crocuses and daffodils of the season. Every year it seems these flowers come earlier than we expect. We braced ourselves for losing an hour of the day (and how that always seems to throw off our sleep cycle for a week) when the clock jumped an hour forward last night. The kids are excited about it being St. Patrick’s Day later this week. Always a fun day for our family to wear green, dance, be silly (by doing silly dancing in our house), and hope for good luck. And last, but certainly not least, there is the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball tournaments. It’s not a family affair yet, more of something I like to watch, but my son’s are starting to show some interest in so there is hope it will become one in future years.

Before I know it, March will be over and we’ll be into April with another flurry of events: Easter, Spring Break and dreams of summer will begin.

I’m doing my best to enjoy the ‘madness’ and not let it pass me by. Smell the flowers. Check. Spring forward. Check (I had no choice). 🙂 Dance a silly jig with my kids on St. Patty’s Day. Looking forward to it. And enjoy watching the basketball tournament — Bounce. Bounce. Check.

How are you enjoying March ‘madness’?  What family activities make up your March?

 

 

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?

 

Getting Caught Up in the Moment

Did you play sports growing up? Do you recall getting caught up in the action, whether you were playing or watching your team?

My son’s soccer team was recently invited to watch the local high school play in the state tournament. My son was excited to sit with his teammates and watch the teams play (a special bonus was that their coach was one of the coaches for the high school team playing). The kids quickly got caught up in the action. It was fun to see them interact, cheering on the team, doing the wave (without any care that no one else was doing it) and talking in their own team lingo as they observed the game. They also got caught up in the nastier side of sports, booing and finding ways to take digs at the opposition.

I got caught up in the action as well. It was a very aggressive and physical game. At one point, two players collided, resulting in one (from the team we were cheering for) bleeding from the head. When the referees proceeded not to issue a yellow card for the incident, I too got caught up in the moment. “When are you going to card #10, ref? This is ridiculous!” I yelled. My son was a little taken aback. One, because I had been relatively quiet up until this point, and two, I clearly reacted as though a true injustice had been done and either the ref was blind or incompetent. His reaction brought me out of the moment. I needed that. The ref’s job is hard enough, they didn’t need me yelling at them. I didn’t want my son thinking my behavior was right either. (On a side note, I don’t know how refs do it. I would sink into the ground if people were telling me how terrible I was while I was performing at my job. I don’t envy them, but do respect them, no matter how frustrating it can be when you see a missed call.).

The game was close right up to the end. The team my son was cheering for won in dramatic action. He was in heaven. He and his teammates celebrated and went off to find their coach to congratulate him. It was one of those moments where you recognize it’s special. It doesn’t happen often and you need to just enjoy it. I couldn’t help getting caught up in my son’s moment. It was pure joy.

How do you get caught up in special moments when they happen?

 

 

 

Soccer Mom

Did your parent(s) ever embarrass you as a child?

Of course they did, right?  It’s a rite of passage for most parents. While I’ve been open with my boys that mom and dad will likely embarrass them from time to time, it will never be intentionally done. They know they can call us on it, and we (my husband and I) have to own it, and try to make it right (e.g. don’t do it again).  What I didn’t anticipate was where I’d have the most trouble not being a repeat offender — at the soccer field.

I am not one of those parents who yells at the kids or the refs and tries to correct them. Instead I’m guilty of calling a play-by-play with what the kids are doing on the field, like it’s some how going to help the outcome of the game. “Nice pass to Jake.” “Way to block it, Luke.” “Take it away, Caleb. You’ve got this.” But one time I went a little too far. My son was struggling in a game, and instead of doing what the coach was telling him, he got angry and started to talk back, “I’m doing what you told me!” “What am I doing wrong?” I didn’t like the way he was talking to the coach, and instead of letting the coach handle it (like I should have) I said, “Why don’t you channel your anger back into the game, and get more focused?” My son was clearly beside himself with embarrassment grunted and gave me a “zip it” hand gesture (moving his fingers across his mouth). When it was half-time he came over to the sidelines with his teammates, and knowing I was standing nearby, loudly said, “I don’t ever want you to come to a game again!”

He had a point. I would have hated it if my parents had done the same thing to me. I wanted to be supportive and encouraging (that’s what we need at any age), not shame him in front of his peers. That’s the last thing I wanted to do. If I wanted to have this discussion with him, I should have done it in private. I told him as much after the game.  “I was wrong. Not what I said, but where I said it. I should have said it away from everyone being able to hear and I’m sorry.”  He still wasn’t happy, but he got it. I owned my part in what happened, and haven’t made a similar comment (at least in front of his peers) since.

I think I rationalize my broadcasting tendencies (which are now strictly the positive play-by-plays) as wanting to show I’m interested and vested (e.g. my son knows I care about what he’s doing), and that somehow my encouragement will help the team (know that they are supported and care). Not to worry, I’m aware that my ‘cheering’ likely isn’t doing much, if any, good, and am working to be a more subdued parent. Outside of walking away from the game and distracting myself, I haven’t come up with a lot of best practices for how to do this.  Anyone have any suggestions to share?

I know my son realizes I mean well, and that I’m his biggest (along with his dad) fan, but I need to model for him how you support someone without strings attached (e.g. I support you even when you’re struggling…especially when you’re struggling), encourage without having to voice my praise (clapping or a yahoo is fine during the game, any points I want to make can be saved for the car ride home). And maybe that’s it…a desire to share feedback real-time, versus seeing how things play out and providing more constructive input at a later time. It’s not easy. It takes practice. I’ve got some work to do.

Are there any other rowdy parents like me out there (willing to admit it)? Do you have a hard time being quiet and calm while watching your child participate in a competitive activity?

Thanks, Coach!

Have you ever struggled to get better at something you thought you should already be good at?

I have, and it’s no fun, whether it’s struggling to do a new task at work, or unsure of how to handle a new childrearing situation. I catch myself thinking why don’t I know how to do this? and because it’s easy to convince yourself that no one else is sharing your struggle to think is something wrong with me?

I saw my son experience this very struggle with his new soccer team. While he understands the fundamentals of the team, learning strategy for how to move around other players and the rules on the field are still something new to him. He became frustrated in a practice and the coach came over to talk to him. My son expressed his disappointment in his lack of knowledge and ability to execute what he was being asked to do. This came in the form of an emotional outburst that was a culmination of his frustration. The coach wasn’t having any of it. He told my son to listen to what he was saying or get off the field. My son promptly walked off the field.

As a parent, it’s hard to watch your child struggle with something. While part of me wanted to go and talk to him about what I just witnessed, it felt like this was something I needed to let the coach handle for the time being. I didn’t want to undermine the point he was trying to make, and I didn’t want my son to think I thought he was failing or not doing things right. I could already see he was really disappointed and down on himself. I could almost hear what he was thinking, why can’t I do this? Why isn’t this coming more naturally? What’s wrong with me?

The coach waited a few minutes and then came over to my son who was close enough for me to overhear the conversation (but not right next to me). The coach asked him why he was sitting on the sidelines. My son replied, “Because I’m terrible and can’t do the drill right!” The coach bent down so he could get eye-to-eye with him and explained, “You’re a kid. You’re job is to learn. To get better at something you have to practice. Do you think Rinaldi never practiced? He practiced all the time. You’ve got to practice to get good at anything,” he continued, “My job is to show you what you need to do, and when I see you not doing something right, it’s my job to show you a better or different way.” He finished, “You’re not terrible, but you won’t know that unless you get back in there and try.” My son seemed to take his words to heart, but wasn’t convinced. The coach then added, “if you don’t practice, you don’t play in the game,” which was enough to get my son back on the field.

The coach and I made eye-contact and he mouthed, “I got this.” And sure enough he did. My son listened more carefully throughout the remainder of practice and even scored a goal towards the end of the practice game. You could see his confidence grow. His expression reminded me of my own experience when I’ve learned something I’ve struggled with, finally getting over the hump and realizing I can do this. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with me after all. It feels great.

I’m thankful that the coach helped my son through his challenge. Not all coaches would have done that, but in my opinion, the good ones do. Struggles are going to happen, and as much as we’d like to help our child, it will sometimes fall to a coach, teacher, leader or a friend’s parent that they respect. As much as I am present with my child, others being present–really seeing my child and helping them see their own potential–will be a big part of his experience growing up. I’m thankful for those who have already played this role, and those that will in the future. Thank you!

Who helps your child work through things they struggle with? Who is a mentor or role model for your child?

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?

Are You Ready for Some Football?

While the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos are preparing for the Super Bowl, my family is preparing for the game in our own way. No, we’re not preparing for a party, we’re preparing ourselves emotionally.

My oldest son is really excited for the game, and we’re trying to prepare ourselves for how to handle things should the game not go the way he hopes. I was the same way when I was his age: so hopeful my team would win the game, and inconsolable when my team was behind (and eventually lost).  The emotions would be so intense, the only way I knew to ease the pain was to leave the room, or turn the TV off.

We’re trying to show our son a different way to experience sports. Losing isn’t fun, and it can be painful to experience and hard to watch when you feel a connection with the team you’re rooting for. I suggested to my husband that we might have to turn the game off if it started going the wrong way, and my husband stopped me. “It will be a good opportunity for us to explain that what he’s feeling, although difficult, is something he needs to learn how to experience.”

He was right. Experiencing pain is difficult, and the game could present an opportunity for us to help our son start to learn how to work through the emotional pain of disappoint. I can’t say I’m thrilled at the prospect of this, only because this is an area I need to get more experience in myself.  We’re taught to avoid pain, particularly emotional pain by any means necessary.

Teaching children how to work through negative emotions isn’t easy. No one ever taught me as a child how to work through emotional pain and get to the other side. It’s taken much effort and personal reflection to understand this, and determine I want my child to have tools I only learned as an adult.

I have to admit, I’m not good at watching games where my team is losing, but I have an incentive to do it now: to show my child how to work through the pain that can come with disappointment. I might get a ‘hail mary’ on Sunday, with my son’s team winning and get to delay this discussion until we watch the next big game, but I’m not going to risk it. Just like the Seahawks and the Broncos are ready, I need to be ready to.

Are you ready for some football? I am.

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?

The Super Bowl – A Family Affair

The Harbaugh family is giving new meaning to the Super Bowl being a family affair. Sons John and Jim will face each other as opposing head coaches in the Super Bowl later today. Their parents have shared their joy in their sons making it to this pinnacle event and their awareness that one son will win and the other will lose—a difficult situation for any parent to wrestle with.

What is infectious about their story to me has little to do with the Super Bowl today, but their openness about how much they want each other to succeed, how much they admire and respect each other, and how much they love each other.

I’ll be watching the game this Sunday with my own family. I’m expecting the game to be interesting, the commercials entertaining, and time with my family fulfilling. The Harbaugh’s story is an inspiring one. It’s a story about the love of the game, and a love for each other. What a great example they are setting for us all.

Go Harbaughs!

Fantasy Football

I hold my parents responsible for my love of sports. We lived in Atlanta when the Falcons appeared to be Super Bowl bound in the late ‘70s.  During the season our house was filled with lots of cheering and shouting on Sunday afternoons. The Falcons made the playoffs in 1981 and in order to advance they needed to beat the Dallas Cowboys. I was convinced the Falcons would win. Not because I knew that much about football, or the team at the time, but because I still believed anything was possible, whether it was realistic or not. I was a child.

My parents went to the Falcons Cowboys playoff game while my sisters and I watched the game on TV with a sitter. The Falcons led most of the game. I knew they were going to win. I could visualize it—the team winning, my parent’s elation that wouldn’t end until after our Super Bowl victory. Except that’s not what happened.  The Cowboys came from behind to win.  I was devastated.  How could the Falcons lose?  This wasn’t supposed to happen.  When it became clear there was no chance the Falcons would make a comeback, I ran to my room, slammed the door, jumped on my bed and promptly began to cry. I cried for the Falcons, I cried for my parents, and others experiencing the same pain I was.  But mostly I cried for the fantasy that hadn’t become a reality.

I took a break from watching football after that. It was too painful. I didn’t need a reminder that sometimes dreams don’t come true. Several years later, my father convinced me to watch a college football game with him. I almost immediately regained the love I had for watching the sport. At first I resisted getting behind one team, but seeing my Dad get behind the University of Miami, where he’d gone to school, win-or-lose I quickly followed. I loved it when it was clear Miami was in control and a victory certain, and had to walk away when things started going in favor of the opposing team. Whether I thought I was a jinx on the team, or allowing myself to have hope that things would improve during my absence, I can’t quite say. Trying to stay and experience the pain of watching my team lose was too great.  I couldn’t do it. My father would often remind me, “it’s only a game,” when he would see how upset or frustrated I was getting. Logically I knew he was right, but it really bothered me that he seemed at peace with it, and I was having all these intense emotions.

While I didn’t set out to teach my children to love sports, I’m afraid I’ve taken them a good distance down the path. My oldest son watches college football games with my husband and I on occasion and helps us cheer on our alma maters. He isn’t picky about who he roots for mainly cheering for teams because he likes their school colors or their mascot. He can get pretty upset—frustrated, angry and sad—when his team isn’t winning or loses altogether. He reminds me a lot of myself when I was a child. I try to comfort him and talk to him like my dad did with me. “Are you playing in the game?” I ask. “No,” he replies. “Did you practice with the team?” I ask. “No,” he replies. “Is there anything you can do to change what happens in the game?” “No,” he replies. Sometimes this line of questioning calms him down, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s hard to see your child’s heart break. To know their dream might not come true, even if it’s only a game.

Most things are out of our control. As an individual that’s hard. As a parent it can feel even harder. We can only control how we respond to what happens.  I try to empathize with my son and see the game through his eyes—fantasy sprinkled with a dose of real life.   While I’m better equipped emotionally to handle my team losing, I still can’t bring myself to watch and entire game if its clear my team will lose. I’ll turn the channel or walk away. I know it’s only a game, but the pain that teeters in the loss is still too great.

Every time I see the famous Doug Flutie pass and victory over UM I’m reminded of the disappointment I once felt, though thankfully not as intensively as I did back then (the recent UPS ad is a killer to watch every time!).  Maybe it’s the childlike fantasy I still want to believe in, the hope that the dream will come true, even though I have know I have no control over it. I think back to what my dad said and take a deep breath. It’s only a game.