We’ve all been there. You’re at the game, watching happily as your child plays their chosen position. Then they do it. They make the worst decision they could possibly make. In soccer, which my daughter plays, they do a soft cross in front of their own goal when playing defense. Your heart sinks. The other team pounces. It’s a goal. And you know it was because your kid maybe made the wrong decision or didn’t execute the right decision well.
Do you yell at them? Do you yell encouragement? Do you talk about it in the car?
Believe me, I’ve seen and done a little from columns A, B, & C.
Nobody wants to be the parent who can’t shut up from the sideline. Just like nobody (or mostly nobody) wants to be the parent that ruins their child’s love of the game.
But it’s SO HARD to watch them make mistakes and to sit by and let it happen. It’s SO HARD not to want to help them to see how they could do better – because you, their loving parent, know exactly how they could do it better and be better and be happier and be wonderful and safe and, and, and…
So, you clap and you cheer and you try not to watch when things go wrong. Or you mutter under your breath and critique every play but refrain from ever uttering it out loud where your child might hear you. These two parenting types, by the way, find it difficult to co-exist. This is why my husband and I no longer sit together at my daughter’s games. He’s a mutterer and I choose not to see any play as bad, lest I be inclined to offer constructive feedback – but the muttering tends to pierce my veil of ignorance and I’m NOT TRYING TO HEAR THAT AT HER GAME.
So we don’t sit together.
I’ve noticed that we’re not the only ones.
The reality is that I don’t really care how good they are at any sport, but I do care very much that they try their best. At what point do we get to raise a lack of effort? Number 71 is a great player, she loves the game. BUT – and this is a big but – she’s still just a 10 year old girl and sometimes she’s just not in the mood to work that hard. This can be galling for a number of reasons. First – the games are like an hour away and it’s Houston so it’s generally 200 degrees outside on the sideline (facing the sun, always). To attend is a sacrifice that I’m happy to make when she’s out there actually DOING her thing. But to watch her NOT do her thing is tough. Second – I hate to see her disappointed or hurt if she gets benched. I know natural consequences are key, but they’re horrible and painful to watch as her mother who never wants her to hurt. Ever.
So at what point do we get to point out that maybe that wasn’t so much fun for us.
The good parent answer is probably never.
The good enough parent answer is that we try really hard to make it home and to just ask leading questions rather than yell.
The real truth is that occasionally we don’t make it home and occasionally voices might get raised.
UGGH. Those days are the worst.
Those days are usually not at all about Number 71 or about the Dancer at all. They’re about us, the parents. We identify with our kids and their successes. Just like we blame ourselves too much for their failures or struggles, we give ourselves too much credit for their successes. And so, we assume, do other people. If our kids aren’t working as hard on the field as we believe they should, we assume other people are thinking that we’re bad parents for raising a kid who maybe doesn’t care about whether her team does well on a day when it’s 200 degrees and sunny and she had a fight with her friend and she doesn’t like the away uniform socks and she didn’t sleep well because she had a bad dream and her tummy hurts from the three hotdogs she had for lunch.
We feel ashamed – not of our kids, but of ourselves.
Those days are the worst. The days when we’re in shame. I try not to let them happen to often now that I know what they are. I try to offer myself the same care and grace that I offer in my DBT skills group – I’m doing the best that I can. She’s doing the best that she can. I’ve noticed that those days where things don’t go so well after a bad game are the days when I was already on the boil with shame – where I woke up and realized I never did the dishes, where I was late to a meeting, where I realized that I had forgotten to wash the uniform needed for the game. I was already feeling low and bad and ineffective and the bad game is just an example of yet another way that I haven’t done my job as parent.
I give myself too much credit and too much importance.
The reality is that our kids don’t need us to be the good parent. They just need us to be the good enough parent. The uniform doesn’t need to be clean, they’re just going to sweat on it again – 10 year olds really don’t care if they smell. Research has demonstrated that 95% of the parenting battle is just showing up from time to time. From offering love and praise, but mostly just feeding them and sheltering them. The occasional hug is important. But the perfect birthday card and the perfect response to on field screw ups is not required.
So long as we apologize for over-reacting to the bad game and attempt not to do it anymore, we’re doing ok. We’re doing the best that we can. And that’s actually good enough.
For more about the good enough parent see: Psychology Today.