I was text-fishing for ideas for this week’s blog post, and one friend texted back: “the pressure some parents put on kids to overachieve at EVERYTHING”. I put that on the list of possible topics. Then, I had a parking lot experience with another mom I’d never met, which I have found, can be some of the most honest, desperate, thirty second conversations.
I was leaving swimming lessons with my youngest. He’s a little overconfident in the water and I thought the lessons may keep us from drowning this summer. Anyway, I’m about to get in my car, but there’s a mom with her car door open next to mine. She’s telling a little person, “Please stop throwing this.” She hands something back and shuts the door, noticing me.
“Sorry, we finished class half an hour ago and I’m just now getting into my car!” I can’t help but laugh. I say, “I’m laughing because I remember.”
From there, she starts to ask me questions about swim lessons. My son is going every day for one week. She laments that they only have once-a-week classes for her son. I ask, “How old is he?” as I finally peek into her car.
“He’s almost one.”
Okay, so then I understood why she was freaking out. He’s her first. She doesn’t want to screw up. She doesn’t want to miss out or have him miss out.
She went on to tell me that grandma was going to pay for extra lessons if she wanted them. At this point I really just wanted to drive this frantic woman home and bake her a giant batch of brownies. She was so stressed about swimming lessons. For her one-year-old. And I get it. I remember.
I say, “Does he like the water?”
“Then you’re all set.”
And she was so relieved.
She seemed like a super-competent, smart lady, but she needed to hear from me, a perfect stranger who could be an ax murderer and the worst mom ever, that she wasn’t messing up. And who knows how long she was relieved. She might have gone right back to worrying as she drove away.
My mind kept coming back to her and my friend’s text. What is it that is driving so many parents to have this intense FOMU – Fear of Messing Up. I know parents of all generations had fears and desires for their children’s future, but I feel like it’s at a new level thanks to social media, stacks of parenting books (I have them all), and the myriad of athletic and academic opportunities our kids have.
I think the FOMU feeds the focus parents have on their kids achieving in everything. For example:
If Joey don’t make this team, he won’t be on the right path to make the next level club team and he’ll miss out on skills, and he’ll never be able to make the high school team, so there’s no way he’ll ever get a scholarship, and…and…and…he has to make this team! We have to get Joey a few private lessons! We won’t be good parents if we don’t do this for him.
Annnnd Joey’s eight-years-old. (The same thought process goes on with kids in any area – academics, the arts, etc, but I’m just using sports to keep it simple.)
And you can bet businesses are making money off this FOMU and focus on overachieving. A coach will tell you your kid has a lot of potential and they should sign up for this more expensive, more time-consuming level of play. Because, you know, scholarships.
That’s just one thought process I see, but I see it a lot. An intense focus on achievement informed by this fear of messing up, specifically this fear our kid won’t get a scholarship. So I dug a little on how realistic this focus is. Statistically speaking, full-ride athletic scholarships are rare. According to the NCAA, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, only 2% of high school athletes receive them. TWO PERCENT.
With all that in mind, I came up with a few questions to help with our perspective on this…
- How do you measure the success of your parenting?
Really, what are you using in your mind to measure how well you are doing? Consciously or maybe subconsciously. And does that measuring stick even make sense? Is it a stick you forged in the fire of fear? Is it contingent on your child’s performance in academics or athletics?
Attaching their achievements to your success or equating their achievement to your success as a parent…whether it’s in the classroom or on the athletic field…it gets ugly. We start sending messages we don’t mean to send about their worth and the reasons we value them.
2. Why are my kids in sports?
If the answer has something to do with a scholarship, research the life of a college athlete and the time commitment that comes with that scholarship. It’s like a full-time job on top of college academics. Ask yourself if your child will still love the game by the time they’re ready for college or if they’ll be burned out mentally and physically from non-stop camps and training. Re-read the full-ride athletic scholarship number above: two percent.
And I’m saying this as a mom of three athletes, a mom who drives people to and from practices and camps all day long. I think you have to be aware of your “why.” Keep asking why you’re filling water bottles and washing uniforms every day. Know your “why.” Feel good about your “why.”
We want the best for our kids. We want them to have opportunities and we want to be as supportive as possible, but how effective is parenting from a place of fear? Not very. And spoiler alert! We all mess up. We’re human. So, today I’m encouraging some deep breaths…some reflection on our parenting fears and anxieties and how they’re driving our words and actions…and, of course, brownies. Because brownies make everything better!
A few links on athletic scholarships for you…