As parents, we want great things for our kids. Sometimes, we feel disappointed when they struggle with a sport or lack interest in something we enjoyed as a child. Kate Early, a Licensed Professional Counselor, shares some tips for managing our feelings and supporting our kids.
I’ll be honest, here…sometimes I’m disappointed in my children’s abilities. My son is playing soccer for the first time and he’s not showing much promise. He is timid and prefers to observe the game from a cautious distance rather than dive in and go for the ball.
My husband and I were both successful soccer players and I, in particular, had always dreamed of my children excelling even farther in their soccer careers than I did.
As I watched his peers dribbling, defending, stealing the ball, shooting, and scoring while he stood by passively, I felt disappointed. I tried every motivational–or more honestly, controlling–tactic I could from the sideline, but to no avail, he was not going to engage. My husband and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.
On the long walk home from the game I thought about what I shouldn’t do as a parent:
- Shame my son: “You’ve got to try harder…You weren’t giving it your all.”
- Compare him to other kids: “You need to play more aggressively like Joey.”
- Force him to practice more: “We’re going to practice everyday until you get better.”
- Give him the silent treatment so he feels my disappointment.
- Try to hide my disappointment by changing the subject.
- Share dishonest, half-hearted, positive feedback: “You were really great out there!”
Instead I chose to check-in with myself and own what was mine to own:
- My dreams (emphasis on “MY”) are not their dreams: I had always dreamed of playing on the women’s national team as a girl but a lack of internal and external resources kept me from achieving my dream. Subconsciously, I had transferred that dream to my children, hoping I could support them in becoming soccer stars. It’s not fair for me to superimpose my unmet longings onto them. They will have enough burdens of their own to carry in life. They don’t need mine.
- Embracing my children for who they are: My son is cautious, reserved, likes to understand the rules and feel secure before entering a new situation. With every single developmental milestone (crawling, walking, potty training, writing his name, etc.) he did it when he was ready, not when I pressured him to be ready. I have learned to step back and let him discover his own interests and abilities at his own internally-regulated pace. And you know what? He always does!
- Accepting that my children may never enjoy or excel at soccer. Grieving sounds too dramatic, but that’s what it is. I have to let go of the dreams of going to varsity soccer games and cheering on my team captain-son. As I let go of what I want them to be interested in, I can accept and support what they are genuinely interested in.
Once I had checked-in with myself, I had a fruitful conversation with my son:
I asked him how he felt he played in the game. He said: “Okay.”
I asked what he felt he did well. He said: “I ran fast and kept up with the other players.” This I could affirm!
I asked what he felt he still needed to work on. He said: “I need to be more aggressive and go for the ball.”
I asked what was keeping him from being aggressive. He said: “I’m a little bit scared.”
Then we proceeded to talk about his fears openly and I was able to validate his fears: It is scary to steal the ball from your friends and have all these people watching you. What if you shoot and miss?
Then we talked about what he wanted to do to overcome his fear. He –not I–suggested that we practice in the backyard everyday and he would try out stealing the ball from his brother and I. I wholeheartedly agreed!
He may never be a soccer star–or maybe he will! But either way, he–and I–are going to grow in character through this experience!
Kate Early is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in St. Louis, Missouri. Her clinical practice focuses on helping clients work through anxiety, depression, burn out, and intimate relationship issues. She is also an imperfect mother of two with a third on the way. You can be on the look out for some exciting, new therapy groups she will be offering in 2016!