Picture it: You are at a sporting event. All around you, there are sounds of swearing, fans shouting insults at coaches, and people arguing with each other. The air is filled with tension. People are yelling things like:
“Are you kidding me?”
“Use your head!”
“What is WRONG with you?”
“What do you know? You shouldn’t even be an ump!”
“We don’t have all day — make a play!”
Just another day at any professional sporting event right?
This is another day at a youth sporting event. Any city. Any town. Any sport. Any age.
Kids. Teens. Our children.
It is not a scene of which we should be proud. It is not a scene that is made any better if it is followed by a title like “Undefeated” or “Champs.”
Let me be the first to publicly and openly admit I am guilty of some of these behaviors. Negativity can be a catchy little bugger, and I have found myself quickly sucked into the negativity vortex on more than one occasion. While I am being honest, I should admit that I have probably sometimes been the start of the negativity. But, I’m not proud of it.
I can do better. All of us can do better.
Isn’t it time we hold up the proverbial mirror and take a good, long, critical look at ourselves as parents of children in youth sports?
Honest self-reflection is not easy; it is hard, painful work, and it is time to do the work.
What would youth sports look like if we all practiced some of the following strategies?
1. Be proud, not boastful.I get it. There are moments when we want our children to feel like they are the best. Of course, we are filled with pride when our child makes the varsity squad or an all-star team or has the best stats. We should absolutely share that pride with the world!
But, can we find a way to express pride in our children without putting down someone else’s child? Can we teach our children to be proud of themselves without being arrogant? Can we be a bit more mindful about HOW we express our pride? Can we help our children to win with grace and dignity? Do we really need to pit our children against each other? Where will that lead them as they move through the really difficult parts of their childhood and adolescence?
2. Let it go.It seems our social media accounts have become the high school cafeteria for adults--ripe with mean girl behavior and teasing. Passive-aggressive memes and posts litter our social media feeds, often under the guise of being funny or insightful or offering interesting comments and quotes. If we are being honest, though, sometimes they are nothing more than hurtful jabs at other parents and coaches or even other children.
Will we tolerate such behavior from our own children in a few years on social media? I hope not. So, why do we allow ourselves to stoop so low now? Why do we tolerate it from our own friends when we see it? We are not going to like everyone and not everyone is going to like us. People will push our buttons and make us feel crazy, for sure.
It’s our jobs as the grown-ups to find a way to cope with those feelings in a positive and respectable manner. We have to be the role models — even when we don’t want that job.
3. Point out the positive.Negativity spreads like wildfire. One coach, parent, ump, or child with negative energy can set off a chain reaction of negativity, and soon everyone has it. You know what it looks like. Slumped shoulders. Eye rolling. Head shaking. Slamming things. Muttering under breath. It happens.
But, do you know what else spreads like wildfire? Positivity. It’s OK to cheer on 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12-year-olds. It really is. Yes, even after they make a mistake — even a huge mistake. You can still find something positive to say in most circumstances. Despite what some people say, I firmly believe that building up our children will NOT create a generation of helpless, spineless, whine bags.
4. Inspire improvement.I would never advocate only pointing out the positive and I am not advocating for participation trophies for everyone. We should absolutely be providing our children with clear and constructive feedback as we help them to be better versions of themselves.
What if we were all a bit more thoughtful about how and when we provide such feedback to our children? When are we doing it out of anger and frustration versus the result of thoughtful consideration? Can we encourage our children to reach their goals without demeaning them in front of everyone?
5. Remember winning isn’t everything.Sure, state, district, and national titles would all be amazing. But, if you are being honest, how much would they really truly matter to our children in 10 years? Will such things define them? Will they define us? If so, what does that mean about us?
Sometimes, it isn’t about the winning at all. Sometimes, some of life’s greatest lessons come from the loss.
6. Remember they are kids.We are raising children in a much different world and a much different time than when we were children. Today’s children have a lot on their plates in today’s world. Their lives are plenty hard enough right now.
It’s easy to forget they are still children. Quite a few of them still hold tight to the stories of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Would it be terrible to let them just have fun and enjoy their youth? Would it be OK for them to enjoy the game, even if they lose?
Next time you are at your child’s game, I encourage you to take a moment and breathe it all in. Look around at what is happening. These days are going to be over soon — for them and for us. How do you want your child to remember these times? How do you want to remember these times?
Could we all do better? I believe we can. We should. For us. For each other.
Originally published on Her View From Home HERE
Somewhere a long time ago, I began creating color coded school schedules for my children each year.
The truth is, they probably don't need them. They probably don't even look at them after the first day.
I like to say that creating these schedules helps to set my children up for success. But, in reality, I need these schedules more than they do. I love the summer months and extra time with my children but summer’s lack of a schedule leaves me feeling unhinged, off-balance, and scattered.
Comfort is what we crave when we are stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed and for me, comfort has always been found in the beginning of a brand new school year. The structure makes me feel relaxed and in control. The consistency makes me feel calm. The order makes me feel balanced. Memories of 9 solid months every year of being seen, heard, and valued makes me feel safe.
So, as a new school year begins to loom on the horizon, I feel a growing sense of calm. I lean into the task of spreading out backpacks and school supplies on my dining room table. I beam as I type all the important school dates into our shared calendar. I let out a deep sigh of relief as I begin to settle back into a new school year.
I inhale comfort and exhale chaos.
School is back.
And these pretty color coded schedules with matching color notebooks and folders are a reminder that everything will be ok.
The other day someone asked me if I had ever tried paddle boarding.
I laughed to myself as I pictured what it would be like to try to stand my uncoordinated, clumsy self upright on a board while floating on the ocean with only my balance and a paddle to prevent me from being tossed into the water by a large wave.
No, I have never tried paddle boarding. Never.
But, as I woke the next morning and quickly ran through the ever growing to-do list in my mind, I started to wonder if maybe I have been paddle boarding but just didn't realize it.
Perhaps the act of trying to balance parenting, wifeing (let's pretend it's a real word), friending (another real word), working, home owning and all the other responsibilities that come with adulting, is a bit like balancing on a paddle board.
Some days I can barely even stand up on my paddle board, no matter how calm or still the water is that day and no matter how strong my paddle is at the time.
On those days, days when my 7 year old throws himself to the floor in a full-fledged tantrum because it is time to put his shoes on or days when I get into the car already late for work and realize that my low-tire pressure light is on, all I can do is float and let the waves and ocean guide me.
Some days I find the strength to stand with ease and I am suddenly an expert paddle boarder.
On those days I glide over the ocean's surface, making dinner, folding laundry, paying bills and shuttling my children to and from events on time like a pro. This paddle boarding thing sure feels like second nature on those days.
Some days I even find myself sitting comfortably on the board, my legs dangling playfully over the edge without a care.
On those days my children are happy and polite, my work responsibilities are up to date, my house is clean and my financial stress is low. These are the days when I wish I could freeze time and soak up all the laughter, love, light and pure joy I see around me.
But then, inevitably, the water changes, as it always does, without warning. Some days there is just too much weight on my shoulders. Flat tires. Sick children. Work emergencies. Sick pets. Health concerns. Broken washing machines. Suddenly I am seasick and just want to angrily cast aside my stupid paddle and board and give up. It's too much. It's too hard. I'm not built for paddle boarding.
The negative self talk gets louder. What was I thinking? Why is everyone else out there balancing so beautifully on their boards today? What is wrong with me?
On those days, all I can do is plunk myself down on my board, legs criss-crossed-applesauce and sit there, holding on to the board for dear life, hoping that tomorrow will be a better day.
But no matter what kind of day I’m having, the truth is that I’m not the only one out here paddle boarding my way through adulthood.
When I pick my eyes up and really look around me, I can see that I am surrounded by a sea of other paddle boarders. While some may be struggling, some may be making it look effortless, and some may be navigating treacherous waters, all of us can benefit from remembering that we are not completely alone.
Maybe today is a good day to reach out to some of your fellow paddle boarders - because it turns out there are a lot of us out here in the ocean of adulthood - just trying our best to balance and not fall off our boards.
I have a secret.
I play the piano and I’m not terrible at it.
But, most people in my life today have never heard me play. I don’t record myself. I don’t perform for others. I only play for myself. My boys have grown up hearing me play though and sometimes ask me to play.
Yesterday my family visited a large music store so my youngest could pick out a guitar for his birthday. My oldest and I wandered into the piano room and he asked me to play piano.
I instantly resisted: “No. People will hear me. I haven’t played in a while.”
Then my 14 year old said to me what I often say to my clients when their inner critic creeps in: “so what?”
What’s the worst that could happen?
How bad could it actually be?
And so I did it and I messed up but I had fun and I’m glad I let him push me out of my comfort zone.
When your inner critic steps in and tells you that you aren’t good enough, aren’t perfect enough, might make a mistake, might regret something, try asking yourself “so what?”
We all could be a bit more like this 14 year old who just sits down at a piano in public and plays because it makes him happy.
Hey mamas, I have a message for you.
You can’t do it all.
You can’t be perfect.
You are going to walk into a room and forget why you even entered it.
You are going to forget about a gymnastics class.
You are going to be late for your kid’s bus.
You are going to think you responded to that text but you actually didn’t.
And you know what, it will all still be ok.
You are human and the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Every day you wake up and hit the ground running because you have people that depend on you. Their needs and their wants fill your head each day on an endless loop. Most days fitting in a shower, brushing your teeth, or even peeing alone feels like a luxury.
And I promise you that all those Mamas you see on social media with their on point makeup, immaculately done hair, spit up free clothes, and gym fresh bodies are far from perfect too.
We all have our struggles.
We all have those things that keep us awake at night with dread and worry.
We all carry shame.
So let’s stop pretending that we can be perfect.
Let’s stop pressuring ourselves and each other to be perfect. Instead let’s meet in the middle with our beautiful imperfections and show each other and ourselves a bit more grace. Let’s remind each other that none of us are perfect. Let’s show each other our imperfections. Let’s talk about them and name them instead of feeling shameful about them and trying to hide them. Let’s light each other up with our realities instead of dimming each other with the heaviness of perfection.
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I’ve been in some scary places in my lifetime.
But, hands down one of the scariest places I’ve ever been is in the parking lot of my son’s high school.
At first the parking lot is peaceful and quiet, just a bunch of parked cars and a line of parents idling in their own cars waiting for their students at the end of the school day.
Then the wooded path from the high school to the parking lot slowly begins to fill with groups of young adults.
Some are off to college in a few months.
Some are already old enough to vote and serve in the military.
Some are heading straight from their school day to their afternoon jobs.
Some are climbing into their own cars and driving away.
Some are grabbing rides home with older friends who can drive.
As they all make their way past my car, I can’t help but picture the versions of them I first met so many years ago.
Gone are the young adult versions of them.
Instead I see the 7 year old that used to ride the bus with my son when he was in 1st grade.
I see the 8 year old that played ball in the street outside my front window.
I see the 9 year old that introduced my son to the magic of summer travel baseball.
I see the 10 year old that helped lead their flag football team to an undefeated season.
I see the 11 year old who introduced me to his mother, a woman who would become one of my closest friends.
I see the 12 year old who wrote my husband a beautiful thank you note for being his coach during his youth football years.
I see the 13 year old who giggled with their friends in the backseat of my car as I drove them all to the movies.
I know they have morphed into amazing young adults but in that parking lot I still see them as the carefree, innocent, wide-eyed younger versions of themselves.
Even as they back out of their parking space in their own little SUV’s and peel away into the line of cars exiting the parking lot, I see who they used to be.
Even as they kiss their high school sweetheart goodbye in the parking lot and drive away to their jobs, I see who they used to be.
Even as they chat with each other about their plans for life after graduation, I see who they used to be.
And as my own son, always one of the last to enter the parking lot, finally makes his way to my car, I see who he used to be.
I see the 5 year old version of him, lunchbox in hand bounding off the school-bus and into my arms.
Yes, this parking lot is terrifying.
For this is the place where you can feel the distance between childhood and adulthood growing more and more each day.
But if you look and listen hard enough, the high school parking lot is also one of the most hopeful places to be.
It is where you can see the friendships and connections that will still be there for decades to come.
It is where you can see the hopefulness for the future they have yet to write for themselves.
It is where you can see the fear of the unknown and the insecurities being replaced by bravery and confidence.
It is where you can see the ability to enjoy the present.
As my son climbs into the passenger seat and flashes his 16 year old grin at me, I am aware that I only have a few more months to spend in this parking lot. Soon he will have his license and all that money he has been saving from his job will be put towards a car.
Soon I won’t be needed in this parking lot - this beautiful parking lot where fear gives way to hope - and I am really going to miss this place.
"You never know how much you'll miss them until those cleats get hung up for the last time."
To this day I still don’t know what compelled me to open my front door when an Amazon delivery man rang my doorbell on that random Saturday night.
99% of my doorbell rings go unanswered or ignored yet there I was, standing in my open doorway stuck in a conversation with the Amazon delivery man.
At first I was irritated.
Couldn’t he see that we had just come home from a long day of football?
I had things I needed to be doing. I didn’t have time to stand in my doorway talking about which local pizza place has the best greek salads or what the best route to the highway is on a Saturday night.
But the longer he stood there talking to me, the more it became apparent that he NEEDED to be there talking to me and I NEEDED to hear what he was about to say.
He peered over my shoulder and into my dining room.
Scattered all over the room behind me were the markers of my current stage in life.
Football pads and helmets were stacked on top of my dining room table.
Athletic cups and mouth guards were tossed next to empty water bottles on my china cabinet.
Sweaty smelly jerseys were strewn over the backs of my dining room chairs.
Football cleats had been left wherever they were kicked off on the floor and string bags had been thrown wherever open space could be found.
It was a scene of total and complete chaos but was a scene familiar, nostalgic, and comforting to the Amazon delivery man for it was a scene from his own past.
As he stood there taking in the state of the room behind me, tears began to fill his eyes.
The hum of the Amazon delivery truck in the driveway began to fade away.
The brand markings on his uniform and on the package of dog allergy meds he held in his hand slipped from my view.
Eventually all I could see and hear was a parent who loved his children deeply - a parent who could be a future version of me.
And it broke my heart.
"My two boys played football too...Well, I had two boys. I lost one in the military. He died."
Pausing to take a deep shaky breath and rocking back on his heels, he shook his head and said "You never really get over it. They say you do. But you don't. You think about them when you're driving around. You think about them all the time."
With the back of his hand, he wiped away a tear and held my gaze for just a beat longer.
"You never know how much you'll miss them until those cleats get hung up for the last time."
His words hit me right in my heart.
In an instant, nothing else mattered.
The mess on the table. The stench of the uniforms. The desperately overdue showers for my teens. The hurried pace of this stage of our life.
None of it mattered.
I had just received one of the most important deliveries of my life from this Amazon delivery man - perspective.
Someday soon, he had reminded me, those cleats that litter my floor will be hung up for good.
The scene behind me will no longer be one of complete chaos.
And I'll miss it all.
I’ll miss the messy house.
I’ll miss the long days.
I’ll miss the grumpiness after losing games.
I’ll miss the sheer fatigue after full weeks of practice.
I’ll miss seeing them play every weekend.
I’ll miss being a part of their lives in this way.
I’ll miss it all and so will they.
Life will change and we can’t predict where it will take us.
One day our Saturday nights might be filled with delivering packages instead of rehashing football games and connecting around my kitchen island.
So, for now, maybe it’s best to keep answering the unexpected doorbells.
We never know when a little perspective may be waiting for us on the other side.
Football has been on my mind a lot lately because this weekend marks the return of a “normal” football season for my boys, after a very very long break.
So, Kenny Chesney's "Boys of Fall" is the soundtrack to my life these days.
When I was in high school, sitting in the football stadium stands playing "Carry On My Wayward Son" on my trombone with the rest of the high school marching band (I was SUPER cool), I remember thinking that football was violent and never ever pictured myself being a football parent. In fact, when my oldest son was 6 years old and started asking about playing football, my initial and frequent response was "absolutely not!!" I recall thinking that it was too rough, too unnecessary and far too much of a commitment from me and for him. I was a solid "no."
But, he was determined to play and one year later, after I had done lots of research and talked to some of the local youth football coaches, I decided to let him try it. After all, in that year since I had said no to football, I had witnessed some pretty serious injuries in his little league baseball division. I convinced myself that on some level football might be safer since my child would be fully padded and always in a helmet with a face shield. Plus, I am also firmly against children specializing in just one sport at this young age and much of the research backs my stance.
I sat, in horror, through those first few weeks of football practice as children ran laps and worked out, sometimes until they puked because they had eaten too close to practice, often through tears and while coaches yelled at them. "What the hell did I sign my son up for?"
My son asked me if he could quit football after just two weeks. While a big part of me wanted to take his little hand and march him back to my car, leaving his stinky football equipment on the field, a voice inside me told me that I couldn't let him quit. He needed to stick it out and see what a game was like before he walked away. I didn't want him to have any regrets and I was convinced that he would be completely done with football after one game. So, he continued on and was one of the children selected to dress (but probably not play) for the first varsity game - a home game.
That first game day was almost magical. The sun was bright and hot, a perfect New England September day. The music pumped throughout the stadium and my son got to hear his name announced over the loud speaker at his high school's football stadium as he ran through streamers held by cheerleaders. Although I cannot recall for sure, I am fairly certain that I cried. After all, I cry a lot - especially when I am proud of my children. I was proud of him and his teammates. They had made a commitment to each other and to themselves. Even though he didn't play much that game, he was hooked and he never ever asked to quit football again.
That season, our family's inaugural football season, was perfect. My son, my quiet, insecure and timid son was changing before my eyes. He was becoming more confident, more assertive and more hopeful. I suddenly understood what sculptors like Michelangelo must have felt as they began to see their works of art being carved from blocks of marble. My son was being chiseled into an amazing version of himself, a version I had always known was inside and I had football to thank for the transformation.
Our second season of football was a bit different and after two games my son cried again - not because he didn't like the game but because he felt "invisible" "not good enough." We talked about it as a family and he decided that the best thing to do would be to talk to the coach and find out how he could get better, how he could get more playing time. I watched him have that brief but terrifying conversation and I teared up again (see? I cry. A lot). I knew many adults, including myself, who were too afraid to approach an authority figure and ask for such feedback. But, he did it and things began to change. He ended the season a starting varsity player and truly became him that season. I saw football's lasting impact on his school work, his friendships and in his other sports.
So, when our youngest son became old enough to sign up for football, I didn't hesitate. He knew what he was signing up for - he had just watched his brother play two full seasons. Of course, the transition into the practices and conditioning was difficult for him but he never asked to quit. Just three plays into his very first football game, he scored a touchdown on a quarterback sneak play. I suspect that moment will be one of the moments that sticks in the photo album of his childhood in his mind - one of those moments he'll tell his own children about someday. He beamed coming off the field and couldn't wait to talk to his big brother about it. It should come as no surprise that I cried then too 🙂
But, in the back of my mind, I hear a voice of doubt. "What if they get hurt?" "What about a concussion?" "Is it too much for them at such a young age?" Then I watch shows like Last Chance U and Friday Night Tykes and have moments of disgust as I watch those coaches swearing at and belittling other football players. Is this what my children have to look forward to? Each season I watch as new children join our football teams and I see the same sheer panic overcome their parents' faces as their child takes their first tackle or stays on the ground longer than the other children and they feel the "Oh my God! He's hurt?!" feeling that sends a parent's heart into the pit of your stomach.
If I'm being honest, I have that same level of panic every time I watch my boys ride off on their bikes or walk along a busy street or rough house on a playground or do almost any of the crazy things boys their age do. I have that same fear when I drop them off at school and have to push back the worry that something bad could happen there too. I feel the same dread when we are in a large public gathering. What if??
But, then I arrive at game day and Kenny's words ring in my head and I remember that I cannot let fear dictate or direct my life. When people ask me "Why football?" my reply is always the same. I cannot wrap my children in a bubble (even though I really wish Amazon Prime would sell one). My children love the game of football. They love creating these memories with their friends. They beam with pride when their lap pace increases, they score a touchdown, have a great block on the line or make a key tackle. Football has helped my children gain confidence and identify their limits in ways other sports have not. It has helped them build character and forge lifelong friendships. It has created change in them that could not have been done with just my parenting alone. It unifies my family in the fall and allows us a shared experience. More importantly though, football is just one piece of our life. In addition to being football players, my boys are baseball players, musicians, basketball players, compassionate friends, academically bright, insightful, creative, funny and great with animals.
At this point in my children's lives, the positive benefits of youth football outweigh the risk of negatives. They even outweigh the nasty, smelly football pads that stink up my car after practices and games. And no matter what time of year it is or how far my boys go with football, on some level they will always be Boys of Fall and I will always be a Mom of Fall.
I’ve been here before.
This space between elementary school and middle school is familiar to me for I have walked this road before with my oldest son. This road is a place where childhood really starts to feel finite and the pull of adolescence finds its way into our lives. It’s a short road but one that feels endless at times and is often uncomfortable and scary.
I’ve been here before.
I’m no stranger to closed doors. Once again these closed doors fill the hallways of my home, a home that used to be filled with the sounds of two little boys giggling and their little feet pitter-pattering everywhere. Sometimes I pause outside these closed doors, hoping to hear some piece of the little boy version that once existed. Sometimes I hear it — the childish giggle. But mostly, I hear a deep voice I still haven’t quite gotten used to hearing.
I’ve been here before.
I know the importance of noticing my tone of voice and being mindful of how I say something.
Asking a simple question like “How was your day?” now takes a certain kind of finessing as hormones are starting to surge and just a wrong look can result in eye-rolling and dramatic sighs.
I’ve been here before.
The sting of not being the most important people in his life is familiar as invitations from his friends now take precedence for him and are preferred over family dinners at restaurants, family trips to the beach, or lazy family days at home. I know eventually the pendulum swings back the other way, and he will start again to enjoy time with the family. This time is only temporary.
I’ve been here before.
My nights and weekends are no longer my own as I now must leave space for my tween to have his own plans. My car has once again become a personal Lyft, available at a moment’s notice to transport tweens to their last-minute, poorly planned activities.
I’ve been here before.
I know to take a deep breath before entering his room as it usually is a total science experiment in there. Frequent conversations about why showering is important and why cereal bowls can’t be left on bureaus now fill my days. I know the time is coming where he will care about the state of his room but that time is not now.
I’ve been here before . . . but not quite like this.
I used to think that my final time down this road from childhood to adolescence would be exciting. After all, I know what’s on the other side of this road, and it’s quite amazing.
I assumed that once I reached this road with my youngest son, I would be relieved to almost be on the other side.
I was wrong.
Although it’s an exhausting, smelly, challenging road, there is beauty on this road, especially when you have an awareness that it is the last time you will help a child transition from the wonder and innocence of childhood to the independence and difficulties of adolescence.
This is a truly special process.
There is something really wonderful that happens when my tween son lays next to me on the couch while watching TV and lets me play with his hair, just like he used to when he was a toddler watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
In moments like this, there is a synchrony between the little boy he once was and the young man he is becoming.
There are wonder and amazement in watching my little boy become a young man, one with his own political views, interests, and thoughts of the world—a young man I find myself admiring more deeply than I ever thought I could.
There is something truly heartwarming to be able to bear witness to the transition taking place right before my eyes.
I’ve been here before . . . but this time I’m going to enjoy it and revel in its beauty for it will be gone for good all too soon.
This piece was originally published 08/17/20 on Her View From Home.
Parenting is one of life's greatest challenges and greatest rewards. Here we explore all aspects of parenting from pregnancy onward, highlighting both the struggles and the triumphs.