SPFOct26

Caring and Not Caring

I have been taking our children to some kind of class or activity for eight years now. I am a competitive person, so it takes *a lot* of restraint and intentional letting-go for me to accept that our children may not be the best in that setting.

I had to realize, accept and internalize early on in this journey called “parenting” that how well our children did or did not do/perform in their current activity (or compared to their peers) was not a reflection on me or my parenting. It was a reflection of who and where they are *right now*, and my role as their North Star is to simply guide them.

I learned to ask questions like, “What did you learn? What did you enjoy? What was hard? What do you think about that?” I had to learn these questions because my natural inclination is to want to correct, teach, and ensure that they would do better next time.

I had to learn to shut off that inclination and realize that is the way I am, not the way our children are. They are sponges – experiencing, learning, and growing. I realized over time that it was slightly ridiculous and unrealistic to expect a child with little to no training to easily succeed at the activity. If they wanted to improve, then we would be available to help. If they are just in it for the fun and they are having fun…encourage them anyway.

There are things that have been hard along the way. As a former dancer who worked hard to improve, and who loved the technicalities as well as the expression of the art form, it has been hard not to be too hard on our children, all of whom are dancing.

I expect pointed toes, sharp spotting, expression from the top of the head through the finger tips and (pointed) toes, and joy!! I had to learn to calm down: I was projecting my grown up abilities and expectations on CHILDREN!!! Hello, lightbulb moment!

I had to learn to laugh when one of our kiddos went off-stage the wrong way 5 out of 6 performances. I didn’t yell at him, because it wasn’t a big deal. If the dance director didn’t say anything, why should I? As long as he is projecting joy on stage, he is doing his job as a performer.

I had to learn to shut off my critic when our oldest delved into the world of solo competition last year. She has teachers who she respects that are willing to guide and coach her. My role as her mother is to love her, support her by driving her to extra practices, and encourage her to listen to her teachers. My biggest job: to teach her to enjoy the journey. At the end of the day, the journey is about much more than winning or losing. What does she want to improve? What did she learn? What did she enjoy? What was the highlight of the event? What does she want to remember forever and tell her own children about?

It has been hard to watch Puma get passed over for several years. I kept hearing one of her teachers tell me that she was always tired and lethargic in class.  Shame on me for not connecting the dots. It was no surprise that once the ulcerative colitis was under control, she started eating more, and hence having the energy to not just keep up, but start to excel in her classes.

I can’t say for sure that is the reason why she started to get noticed. I do know for sure that she is starting to care about what her dancing looks like.  Whatever it is, she is putting more effort into dancing.

So all those years of marking time, and driving her to dance class, and tuition at the dance studio is starting to show. She is little by little moving up.  Little by little she is being selected for performance numbers. I have to try not to get to excited, because that’s counterproductive to my efforts to not get invested for my own edification. If she has any talent, that is God’s gift to her. If she is succeeding, that is a direct result of her own hard work and effort in her classes. It is not about me.

I wish there were words to comfort the parents who are watching their own children get passed over. It stinks – I know first hand how it feels. It’s hard not to be a little irritated with the teachers who aren’t seeing the potential in a child, especially when several of their classmates are chosen, and you know darn well they share similar skill levels.

As former professionals in our chosen fields (Me: dance, Bruss: baseball), our philosophy is that being passed over is an invitation to work harder.  So if a parent wants to “do something” about it, now it’s time to do some fact-finding…

I am going to suggest something similar to what I tell our childbirth students: choose a “provider” that you trust. In this case, a team, teacher, or organization that you know to be trustworthy, reliable, and that above all, keeps the child’s best interest in mind. If you believe that you are in the best place for your child to learn and grow, then ask to have a conversation with the coach/teacher.

When you go talk to the coach/teacher, try to leave your feelings at the door. Focus on the facts and try to keep the emotion out of it by asking questions like: How is my child doing on a scale of 1-10? How did you give them that rating? What are you looking for when you select “teams” or “groups”? What skills is my child accomplishing? What areas do they need to work on in order to have a better chance at being selected next time?

It also means checking in with the child: what do they think? Does it matter to them to be selected? If it does, share what you learned from your fact-finding conversation with the coach/teacher. If it doesn’t matter to them, then ask them what they enjoy about what they are doing, and what makes them happy about it.

Then, support them! If they want to work harder, help them carve out practice time and/or tutoring in the skills they want to acquire. Point out progress so that even if they don’t get picked again, they can still be proud of the growth they achieved.

If recognition in an activity isn’t a priority for them, ensure that it stays fun for them, because joy is such a crucial part of good health. Doing something they love keeps the stress levels low and the child happy. At the end of the day, is there anything more important than capturing joy in childhood?

Thankfully in Puma’s situation, I didn’t have to have these conversations with the teachers at the dance school because I do trust that the teachers are objective and fair. When Puma made comments about wanting to be included in the performance groups, I asked her what she wanted to do about it.  And then I watched her put her actions behind her words.

I think the best thing we did for Puma as she starting competing last year was giving her the option for an out.  One of our family mottos is, “Be safe! Have fun!” Both Bruss and I told her repeatedly that if at any point, practicing and/or competing stopped being safe or fun, she could stop and that was okay with us.

As it turns out, she has a little competitive streak herself, and she cared.  We figured out extra rehearsals that worked in our schedule, she reminded me in plenty of time to take her, and every once in a while she asked for help from her old dancer mom.

Before every event, I asked her what she had learned going into the event, what had improved since she started, and what she wanted to enjoy at the event. I tried so hard to stress that it wasn’t about winning – it was about the journey and the growth.

As our boys play soccer for a second season this fall, we are trying to do the same thing. Night Owl is extremely competitive and takes it very hard when his team loses. We are helping him channel all that extra energy into sportsmanship after a game, and improvement during practice times. Charger is a “go with the flow” kind of guy: he just loves running, kicking, and playing on a team: the score doesn’t matter to him.

And so it goes…more surrender to the process, their personality, and the journey. So much like birth, in so many ways.