I spend a lot of time on the sidelines.
As we’re raising two boys, sports are a big part of our lives.
My youngest plays travel baseball almost year-round—until a few years ago, I wasn’t even aware that this was possible in the state of Pennsylvania, considering the weather—which equates to hours with other baseball parents.
From my vantage point, I’ve seen parents behaving badly. Heck, I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve behaved badly.
I remember criticizing my then five-year-old about why he wanted to play soccer if he wasn’t going to try his hardest. From the back row of our SUV, a tiny voice replied, earnestly, “I am trying hard, Mom.” You want to talk about low points as a parent? That was, without a doubt, one of my top 10, and something I have since vowed not to repeat.
Since that humiliating day, I’ve been a spectator at hundreds more youth sporting events. And I’ve learned from my mistakes. (We’re all winging this parenting thing anyway, right? Learning as we go?) Now, when either of my sons trots off to their team, I simply say, “Have fun!” I smile and wave when they see me on the sidelines, and when we’re in the car on the way home, I say, “Good job, buddy.”
But this is not an article about a parent’s role in youth sports. Former MLB catcher and manager Mike Matheny covered that topic best when he said, “I believe that the biggest role of the parent is to be a silent source of encouragement.” (If you haven’t read it already, check out the Matheny Manifesto.)
No, this is an article about Mom and Dad yelling at their son for striking out and, conversely, strutting with their heads held high when little Bobby hits a homer. It’s an article about parents wrongly tangling up their own egos in their children’s performance on the field.
It’s time we recognize our children and their successes—and failures—as their own.
It starts when they’re young. I distinctly remember reading What to Expect in the First Year and feeling a sense of pride when the text indicated that my son was ahead of the game in this or that. I would brag to my friends, my father, the cashier at the grocery store, “Aidan took his first steps! He’s only seven months old!”
Whether our child was potty-trained at a year or rode a two-wheeled bike at three, as parents we often feel an illogical sense of responsibility for the feat, as though Susie’s accomplishments were the result of our top-notch parenting. Look, I’m not suggesting that we stop praising our children for their accomplishments. Or that we even stop bragging. Quite frankly, I’m not honestly sure that we could stop.
But, can’t we all agree to stop mistaking our child’s accomplishments as our own?
My kid’s a natural athlete; he’s good at whatever sport he plays. Am I proud of him? Sure. Do I love watching him? There’s nothing I’d rather do. But, while I would love to take credit for his skill, I know I can’t. I drive the kid to practice. I drive him to games. I scrub his uniform and buy him sunflower seeds. These are the limits of my contribution to his success.
And guess what. Knowing all this makes me a happier spectator. I don’t feel the need to criticize him, even constructively. If anything, I feel a greater sense of anxiety for him, because I know that, win or lose, he’s doing it all alone. And that’s a big deal. Standing at the plate, staring down a pitcher while a hundred eyes are on you? That’s some scary stuff for a 10-year-old. Hell, it’s scary for a 40-year-old. The last thing he needs is a parent whose ego gets nicked every time their kid makes a mistake.
And here’s something else, parents.
You ready for it?
It’s not too late for our own accomplishments. You want to run a marathon? Go for it. Want to grow an organic garden? Get on out there and get your hands dirty!
Because it’s true: we’re never too old to try something new.
Want to do something really brave? Join an over-40 baseball league and let your kids come and watch. You might learn to appreciate the pressure they feel when they’re on the field.
Too many parents think the only place for them is the sidelines, whether they’re too out of shape to do more than sit, or whether they think that having kids precludes them from having interests of their own. That’s sad. And unhealthy. Shouldn’t we model the behavior we expect in our children?
Having interests and experiences outside our children doesn’t make us bad parents; it makes us interesting. It makes us healthier. It makes us happier. And, it gives us the clarity necessary to allow our child to claim his successes and failures as his—and only his.
It’ll make him happier, too!
Author: Melissa Aird
Apprentice Editor: Taija Jackson / Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Author’s own