I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sports parenting. Or really activity parenting. My own parents drove me to whatever sport I wanted to participate in, but were never the team mom or all that involved. They attended games, but never had an opinion on how I played – or really even knowledge. My dad played hockey, my mom never played sports. Figure skating was pretty unknown territory to them and I’m reasonably certain in never occurred to them to learn much about it.
The same was true of most of my other activities – swim team, theater, choir. They came to the big shows and meets, but never really made much of an effort to get involved beyond that. Play or quit, didn’t much matter to them as long as I finished out something the season.
Except for piano lessons. I liked the idea of being able to play the piano but was never really willing to put in the work to practice daily. I remember my mom sitting at the piano with me, fighting with me about my work ethic and my desire to play. I remember her frustration that I didn’t feel a drive to respect my talent or early promise at the piano. I played for 13 years and never really gave it much of an effort.
When I quit skating, something to which I had devoted such a significant portion of my young life, I don’t remember any argument or attempt to get me to stay with it. I feel some regret over the way I quit, the way I just gave up when I got tired instead of working to take breaks and to find ways to keep doing something that I had loved so much. Part of me wishes they had cared more when I quit.
By the same token, my mother would NEVER allow me to quit piano. Bribery, cajoling, threatening. All of it. I was ambivalent about playing, but somehow convinced to continue. Not to really try, but to continue. I’m glad, to this day, that I can play the piano. But, I remember the fights and the tears and the toll it took on our relationship. I’ve often wondered if the last five years of lessons were worth it, considering I can play now about as well as I could in middle school and it’s sufficient for my purposes today.
These experiences run through my mind today as I parent my own children through their activities. There must be a middle ground between disinterested chauffeur and stage mother. But it’s a tough balance to strike. My own girls play piano. Number 71, like me, is an indifferent player. The Dancer is more talented and interested than I am, but also has a middle schooler’s lack of drive to put in the hours. Number 71 would quit tomorrow if I would let her and never look back. The Dancer would probably feel some regret since she aims for a career in music/dance/theater. Neither wants to practice. How much do I push them to play and to practice?
Do I push them equally? Do I push them at all?
I’ve settled on a blanket rule of playing until middle school and then continuing if it makes sense for your ambitions. I’m willing to push the Dancer to overcome her teenage laziness because she doesn’t push back too hard and rationally knows she wants to continue. But I’m not willing to sacrifice my relationship with Number 71 the way my mom did with me when my daughter doesn’t seem to care AT ALL about piano.
It’s hard to find that balance in all aspects of parenting, so my current goal is to practice Wise Mind when it comes to choosing activities and to engage my kids in a discussion of the same. What are the rational reasons for doing what you want to do (quit, keep playing, add activity) what are the emotional ones (tired, overwhelmed, fun) and how can we come to a place of balance. It’s not all or nothing. Can we find a way to make what isn’t fun, fun again? Can we scale it back or find an alternative? Can we switch from club to recreational? Can we add an additional sport to take the pressure off this one?
It’s proving to be a good way to get them to talk about their options and their feelings. But, honestly, it’s mostly just about providing candy before and after each piano lesson.