Now that I’m a Parenting Blogger (yes, the presence of capital letters makes it an official vocation even though – sadly – I’m not getting paid to do it), I make a point of chatting up other moms and dads that I come across in daily life. Their experiences are fascinating; their perspectives are so varied, yet with an undercurrent of sameness that links us all as parents. I try to approach these conversations with a modicum of savoir-faire, which is not easy given my predisposition to Green Zone Parenting (see yesterday’s post, titled Verbal Abuse & Neglect: A Winning Combination?).
SIDE NOTE: Moving forward as a reader of this blog (and thank you – for your support & engagement…it is very cool to have readers, even if only a few right now), understanding the theory of GZP will be important for context as it is shorthand for the type of parenting I’m advocating.
Yesterday at the AAA office (for passport photos, and yes, I look 10 years older and no, I didn’t appreciate being shown the photo and then being asked “are these OK?” because there are no OK passport photos when you’re 42 years old) I chatted with the counter gal. Turns out she is the mom of a college-age girl. I asked her about her daughter – did she play sports? what was her parenting experience like? As she recalled specific stories about that season of her life (while those hateful photos were printing), her face took on a dream-like quality (or was that nightmare-like…I couldn’t tell), as though she were right back in the thick of it. I could almost see the transformation as she pictured herself and her daughter, her state-of-mind and the little details of each one of those days. She wistfully, and with a twinge of that specific mom-brand of fatigue, talked about her daughter’s career in youth sports, starting with a stint in soccer (didn’t like it), and ending with a pretty serious varsity basketball experience. I asked her where her daughter was now (college) and if she was playing basketball (no). This surprised me. When I asked why no basketball, her mom simply shrugged and replied, “Burned out.” Interesting.
Frannie (a.k.a. a Friend Whose Name is Not Frannie)
One of my dear friends – we’ll call her Frannie – has a similar story. Now in her late 20’s with a family of her own, Frannie was raised in an upper-middle class suburban enclave of southern California. Her parents, a stay-at-home-mom and a successful businessman – were very involved in her childhood. As it turned out, Frannie was a pretty good soccer player from a pretty young age. She grew up playing club soccer and competing at a high level. Her parents attended every game, cheering from the sidelines. Frannie’s dad ran game notes with her in the car after every game. Frannie had a gift – she was an excellent player. As Frannie matured and entered the high school years, competition within the club soccer community became fierce. She’d win some games, lose others; play hard one day, be off her game on another. This cycle – called ‘normal’ by some – was unacceptable to her parents. When she would lose a game, Frannie would be given the silent treatment during the car ride home. Her parents became so enmeshed in Frannie’s pursuits that it no longer felt like Frannie’s – it felt to Frannie like she was a human chess piece on her parents’ twisted child-rearing game board; that her parents were competing against other families, the object of the game being to raise the most successful kids. Frannie’s soccer skill was a tremendous advantage for her parents. Unfortunately, Frannie got tired of being her parents’ Spawn Pawn and eventually quit soccer (all that talent squandered at the hands of her parents!). She walked away with zero regrets. She was done. In fact, something Frannie said about that experience has stuck with me all these years: at one of my daughter’s indoor soccer games, Frannie suddenly turned to me and said, “I will never put my foot on a soccer ball again” (Frannie – I left the cuss words out – I’m committed to a PG-rating on this blog – but for the record I remember them and it made your statement that day even more chilling for me to hear as a parent of then young girls…all those years later and you were still SO angry). Interesting.
Alice Cooper and the Dormant Rebel in Our Kids
Here are two examples of highly competitive girls excelling in their chosen sport throughout high school…then suddenly quitting the moment free will allows them to do so (oh Alice Cooper – how true your immortal words…pssst – hey pop culture novices? I’m talking about the song Eighteen by the 70s rocker Alice Cooper).
This begs the question…was their school experience a product of their dreams or the dreams of their parents? Look at the psychological affects, people. Look at what we’re putting our kids through. Take these stories and let them be a beacon for you. It’s not too late to course-correct. If our kids excel at something, that does not necessarily mean it’s what they’re born to do, or that what they’re doing is fueling their passion and authenticity. There is such a push in today’s society to be good at something, and I get that we want to foster that skill and push our kids to use it…but to what end? If these two scenarios are any indication, we’re sucking their souls dry. They are counting the days until the control shifts from you to them. Do you really want them to end up bitter about being pushed and prodded and guilted into an existence that isn’t feeding them on a visceral level? And FYI – on some level Frannie hates her parents for it. Yes, I used the word HATE.
Labels and Tidy Boxes
I’ll admit – at first I thought Frannie’s story was extreme, and as a parent I have wished and wished for my kids to be excellent at soccer or some other sport so I can check that piece of their ‘proper’ development off the list (it’s just easier to program that in at an early age, assign your kid a label and draw a box around them, as in “Oh, my daughter is a soccer player“); so my initial takeaway with Frannie was more about why in the world did you quit playing soccer if you were so good? – but after a few years at this parenting gig, I find her experience quite abhorrent (shame on you, Mr. & Mrs. Frannie), and it is a wake-up call to all of us that attempt to slap labels on our kids. Kids are complicated – we’re complicated. I think as a parent we take this responsibility of shaping their lives way too literally. They want and need guidance, boundaries and a play book for success, but they want to write their own stories. I think all it takes to course-correct is a slight backing off on our part. Let it unfold. Loosen your grip.