Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Trying not to be "one of those" mothers.

CindyLou, believe it or not, is now 7 (going on 13) and Bean just turned 4 (!). In the days of old, when Mr. Whoo and I were uninitiated to hard-core parenthood and naive to the social rigors that exist in the suburbs, we concocted a wonderful fantasy that each of our children would select 2 different activities completely of their own accord, without pressure from either of us, and while we would always encourage them to finish out a season, we would never be "those parents" who pushed them to be "better, stronger, and faster." Ha. Ha. Ha.

Enter these last few months, where CindyLou chose cheerleading and tumbling (With or without a nudge from her mother? A former cheerleader, who always regretted a lack of formal tumbling training? Ok, probably a little nudge.) Bean chose soccer (pretty much of his own accord, well, that, and the fact that it is pretty much the only organized sport available for boys at age 3). We started out with the best intentions, and really, watching 3 year olds playing soccer is a bit like watching cats being herded on the field. Except, then Bean really started to *get* it, and then he got *really good* (for a three year old). Each game he would score at least a couple of goals, setting his own goal for each game for *at least* five goals per game. Then he achieved that goal, and all of the sudden, Mr. Whoo (assistant coach) felt like he had to take his own son out so other kids had a chance to score. The other parents would ask where or how often we practiced with him (exactly twice, right before the first game and then again right before play-offs), like they were somehow implying that we were driving him to his successes (we were not). It made me uneasy to have that feeling of competitiveness creep anywhere near my sweet 3 year old baby, who was just there to have fun.

Things were no better with CindyLou, sitting behind the glass with the other "gym moms." I did my best to fade into my chair while the other mothers, obviously veterans, systemically analyzed and subsequently ripped apart each girl in the gym, including their own daughters. Despite my best intentions, however, it completely stoked my competitive fire, and made me want to take CindyLou home and drill motions and practice flexibility for hours on end. How dare they judge my babies like that, and, indirectly, how dare they judge *me*? It is a strange new world, the world of competitive extra-curricular activities, where the parents are just as cruel and mean as the kids can be.

Growing up, for me, it wasn't this way. Parents did not hang around at our practices and activities and compare notes. I did tap at 5, piano at 8, softball and cheer in 4th and 5th grade, band (clarinet) in middle school, and cheerleading through middle and high school. Parents were only there for recitals/games. Maybe that made it easier to not be so fiercely competitive. I think this can apply to the academic setting as well, although, to this point, we have had no "real" report cards with As or Bs, just Ms for "meeting criteria." So tell me MiMs, how do you stifle your competitive streak and just keep your cool around other "tiger-like" mothers and fathers? How do we teach our children to be *their* best, without making them feel like they have to be *the* best?

16 comments:

  1. By defenition "tiger" parenting is NOT pro-sports. If you read Tiger mother book, she specifically and intentionally ignored sports. Parents you describe are narrow-minded people of lower culture levels. I have enough confidence in me to ignore pro-sports culture and intentionally do not enroll my elementary age kids in such activities. They both do karate, very individual achievement activity. In our training style we do not do competitions. I ensure outdoors time for my kids physical fitness, that helps brain development (per research). I seriously doubt a value of cheerleading, I would be worried if I had a daughter who was in this activity. I guess in my mind this can lead to promiscuity in high school. I do not think it is right for super young kids who are just developing their physique to be pushed into any sport. What happened to biking, swimming, running around the playground, creative and social hide-seek, tag, etc. Trust me that's all I did as a child, and I am more fit and strong than most my peers.

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  2. I love sports, and hope that someday when I have kids that they will love sports too, as well as academics. I don't agree at all with the above poster who thinks that cheerleading has no value and could lead to promiscuity(!). I did horseback riding growing up, and loved it and got very good, but completely burned out when I was 16. Then I took up water polo and running. My husband was a competitive swimmer, and was very good! But also burned out when he was 15, and started playing basketball for fun.

    I have NO IDEA how to avoid being riled up by the competit-parenting. I think it's pervasive, not just in sports, but in every single facet of life these days. I'd hate for my own future offspring to burn out like we did, but it seems hard to avoid these days. Such a great question.

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  3. By all means keep your little boy in soccer. It would be so unfair to him to be pulled out. And for other parents?... well its just more fun when you have a good player on the field, even if he is the only one. It is their probelm and they have to deal with it.

    As far as cheerleading? H-m-m, OMDG, I met some parents who would not allow their daughters take on cheerleading. They do not like the idea of their young girls shake their bottoms in front of everyone (dont' t teens involved in football have earlier relationships and more parties?). And reciting Tiger Mother book drums lead to drugs. So, see some have stronger opinions.

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  4. Well, I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that not all parents share the same values re: cheerleading or anything else for that matter. I can think they're wrong just as much as they can think I am. Good thing they don't get to dictate my life!

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  5. Anon~ Yes, I know that "real, by *definition*" Tiger mothers are unimpressed with sports. I was using "tiger-like" to draw a parallel from parents who are into coaching their kids to excel in academic/artistic pursuits to those who coach/push their kids to excel in athletic pursuits.

    As for cheerleading leading to promiscuity and "shaking (our) bottoms" (really, as if) for all to see, as I said in the article, *I* was a cheerleader, hardly promiscuous, and, actually felt it kept me well-rounded, athletic, in the correct social circles in high school, and from being a complete school geek (I was also in Student Council, National Honor Society, and a couple of community service clubs). We competed at the state and national levels, and were every bit as much of an athlete as the girls on the softball or basketball teams.

    OMDG~ I definitely see the value in sports, both team and individual. Maybe my blue collar middle class is showing :P As for not getting on board the competition train, it's tough. I'm just super competitive about everything. I try my best just to keep my mouth shut. We are adding piano lessons and jazz class for CindyLou this season, at least the piano lessons are private.

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  6. Another cheerleader here - NHS, forensics team, show choir, top of the class....cheerleading today is nothing like it is portrayed in movies and television. It is a tough sport that requires much practice and dedication. We were also a competition squad and practiced as a team 4 nights a week. I put in many hours at home in front of my parent's picture window "dance mirror" perfecting form. Parties? yes. Drinking and Drugs? NO. Promiscuity? NO.

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  7. If cheerleading success is important to you, then the only option seems to accept the parent culture.

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  8. I have no grand illusions about changing the parent culture, just a hope to avoid becoming immersed in it and becoming part of it. The difficult part is that I want to join in to the competition *too* much, and I think that ultimately that would be to my children's detriment.

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  9. My son, at 6, still has his head in the clouds on the soccer field. He told me this year he wants to do tennis (??!!??). Daughter (8) is becoming quite the dancer/performer, but I try to teach her not to take herself too seriously, which makes her even better on the stage.

    As for the other parents? Screw what they have to say, unless it is positive.

    I was too gravity-challenged to be a cheerleader, but I was on the pom squad (we were the promiscuous ones - ha ha so kidding) for a couple of years. Enjoyed much. C did one year in cheerleading - she wanted to at 6 and I let her. She learned the dedication to getting a routine down, and it translated nicely to her ballet/jazz/hip-hop/tap she is enjoying now (yes! My 8 year old wears booty shorts to dance class!). I say let kids be who they want to be. Good parents translate good values.

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  10. Gizabeth -- Thanks for making me laugh out loud this AM!

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  11. Parents need to realize that kids excel at things or not, largely because they have 1) an opportunity to try something; 2) support (whether they succeed or they fail at it); 3) an inherent talent, or lack thereof for the thing in question; and 4) a drive to practice/compete/excel. We provide the opportunities when we sign them up for these things or pay for them, and we provide the support...hopefully. But the biggest determinant of whether our kid ends up being Hope Solo or Yo Yo Ma will be #3 and #4, and we have little or no control over those. If we stop seeing our kids' soccer goals or cello solos or whatever as feathers in our own caps, it will be a lot easier to avoid becoming "one of those parents". As a mother, I don't want my kids to have "one of those moms", and looking forward, I don't want my kid to turn into one of those parents either.

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  12. Back to your original question...I think it's really hard to stifle that competitive streak. One thing I've noticed is that it's way easier when the kids are doing something that's not near and dear to my heart. For instance, I think team sports are great for kids, and I'm happy to support them. I think my 8-year old daughter is not destined for greatness in them though - she lives in her own lala land, and basically quits paying attention to the soccer ball any time it's not actually touching her cleat. Since I never did team sports myself, however, it doesn't bother me much that she's not super successful. She's getting exercise and having fun - that's good enough for me.

    Different story with academics though. That is VERY important to me - the foundation of my own identity, really, and it always came easily. I find it very difficult that my daughter struggles in that area. Every time a report card comes home I feel like I'm getting punched in the stomach, and I can't sort out why I feel that way - but I know I'm not supposed to. I bet that is much the same for an ex-star baseball player who has an uncoordinated kid. I have some empathy for that less-than ideal face of parenting, though I do think we'd be better if we could all chill out a bit!

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  13. Our kids are close in age to yours so I know your fears. But they are not our reality. With soccer, our son also "got it" much quicker than his age-peers and he "plays up" a league. At 3 and 4, it was frustrating to him to play with kids who couldn't remember which was the correct goal so the older league is better. He'd be a star in the younger league, but he's average on his team. He's the youngest by over 6 months, but most people don't know that.

    Our son also dances and we've been told he is quite good. He "dances up" as well, but there is almost no competition because he's the only boy so it's just different. For dance and soccer, we've moved him to a level where he is average by having him with older kids. This wasn't our decision (coaches and dance teachers pretty much made the call), but it has worked out well. He also plays violin (and is the best in his group) and is academically very near the top of his class. So he is the best at these things and more middle of the pack with dance and soccer.

    However, if you are really looking for advice, here it is. Don't stay at the practices. Our dance studio is near a great cafe and whichever parent does dance pickup/drop-off gets glorious alone time in the cafe. Soccer is tougher, but you can always bring work to do, even if it's in the car or on a nearby hillside. I realize this is sort of anti-social, but the conversations with the other parents don't sound like much fun anyway.

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  14. Giz~ Right! Screw what the other parents have to say! Love it! :)

    Tempeh~ You are the voice of reason, as always. It is hard not to see our children as an extension of ourselves, instead of their own whole person. I need to tell myself this every day.

    KGood~ I agree. The closer to our hearts the activity, the more competitive we become. As for the academics, I am totally with you, but so far our system is still giving out Ms (Meeting Goals) or Ps (Progressing Towards Goals). I have no idea how well CindyLou is doing academically. I mean, I know she can read and writes above grade level, and her math is good, but it's not graded on the same scale. Once she gets further along in school, I'm sure I'll be contending with those feelings, as well.

    sew~ Yes, advice is that for which I am asking!! "Playing up" a league may be a good option for Bean next year, he just turned 4 and the league in which he currently plays is 3,4, and 5 year olds. Unfortunately, he is also small for his age, so he tends to be one of the smaller guys on the field, which makes me nervous to move him up with even bigger kids. Bean doesn't practice, but I will go to his games. Can't avoid the parents there. As for not staying at CindyLou's practices, good advice, I would love this... except she asks that I be there to watch. I do *not* engage with the veteran gym moms. I usually bring a book or play Angry Birds, but can't help but overhear them nonetheless. Perhaps earplugs are in order? :)

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  15. Wow, someone has a big hangup about cheerleaders! My daughter wanted to do cheer this year and the only qualm I had about it was the expense compared to the soccer and lacrosse that she had done previously. I was never a cheerleader but at my school but my impression was that they were less "promiscuous", maybe because if anything they seemed more concerned about what parents/teachers/other kids thought of them. On topic, I think as long as your kid is happy in whatever activity they are doing then that's all that really matters. It's sad the way some people live through their kids, you have to have incredibly low self esteem to go around tearing down other people, especially a kid.

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