With that being said, every once in a while that question will pop up. That question. The one that invokes an incredible amount of fear, anxiety and guilt all at once. That question that makes every parent, no matter how confident, get a knot in the pit of their stomach. The question of 'am I doing this parenting thing the right way?'. Just the other day I was reading an article on Huffington Post by a woman who labels herself the "Anti-Soccer Mom." I swallowed hard as I started to read, unsure if I was about to be deemed a bad parent because I am, in fact, a soccer mom.
The author spoke of her own insecurities brought up by not involving her kids in more organized activities. Her weaknesses made mine lessen, but only for a minute. I continued to read, and that's when my anxiety spiked. "I am the anti-soccer mom," Robin O'Bryant writes. "I believe in building forts and jumping into creeks. I believe in eating popsicles and letting them drip down your elbows and ruining your good shirt. I believe in spraying the trampoline with a water hose and digging in the dirt for worms. I believe in playing hide-and-go-seek until the street lights come on and your Momma has to call you inside more than once. I believe in making my kids take a bath before dinner because they are so dirty from simply being kids that they can't possibly sit at my table. And I believe in sitting at the table and looking them in the eyes every night instead of chauffeuring them all over town to events they show no interest in."
Gulp. I believe in those things too, but they aren't my reality. Should they be my reality? Should I be doing this differently? Those are really scary thoughts as a parent.
It wasn't until I got to the point of the article where O'Bryant writes "I've had to decide what my kids will remember of their childhoods" that I felt peace. My kids will have vastly different memories from their childhoods than O'Bryant's, but they will be no less special and no less important.
I am a soccer mom. I work full-time and more days than not I leave work in a hurry to rush to practice. My kids know that homework must be done as soon as they get off the bus, otherwise there won't be time for it. We'd make time, of course, but that leads to late nights and a cranky mom so it's best for all of us to avoid that. My kids practice most days, either on a wood floor or the dirt and grass of the outdoors, and by the time we get home at night it's close to bed time. We rush for dinner and then hurry through showers so they can rest their head down for a good night's sleep. After they've gone to bed I pack lunches for the next day, pack school backpacks and an extra one filled with gear for whatever activity they may have. And we all go to sleep in order to do it all again the next day. Is this bad? Am I doing this the wrong way?
If you were to ask my kids, the answer to that question is a simple and astounding 'no.' I'm doing it exactly right, at least as for them.
My son plays soccer and baseball, the latter being the absolute love of his life. We spend countless hours at the indoor facility, in the batting cages, and on the field. Do I force him? No. Do I love it? Yes. I love having a child so passionate about a sport that's much bigger than he is, to so deeply love a game that can offer him nothing in the material sense. He's learned so many incredible lessons on the ball field and he's only 11 years old. He's a teammate, and he's a really good one. He cheers for his teammates and their success, and he picks them up when they're down. I've watched him rub their backs when they get hurt, throw his arm around his pitcher after a good inning, and walk beside a teammate back to the dugout after a bad play so they didn't feel so alone. He's learned empathy and strength, gratitude and pride, and he's learned them on the baseball diamond. He's learned to work really hard to overcome a slump and that even on bad days, there is still good coming around the corner. He's learned to respect his coaches and be loyal to his teammates. They may not all be his best friends but they are his teammates and he is fiercely protective of them. He's learned to balance his school and his sports, and even to appreciate his mom for all of the hours I spend driving him around and lugging his dirty equipment.
He may not have memories of building forts and playing hide-and-seek, but his memories will fulfill him just the same. He'll have memories of summer days on the field, playing the game he loves until dark. He'll remember the smell of the grass on an early spring morning and how his coach stayed in the pouring rain to give extra batting practice. He'll look back on weekends spent at a tournament and staying at a hotel with his teammates. He might not remember the final score of those games (although knowing him he absolutely will!), but he'll remember swimming in the pool past bedtime with his buddies. He'll remember going to a restaurant as a team and sitting with his pals instead of the parents. He'll remember looking to the bleachers and seeing my face, his mom, after a good play or a bad one. I'm going to be there no matter what the scoreboard says. He's going to know that I gave everything I had... time, money, and emotions... to let him live his dream for those years when you're allowed to dream really big. He's going to know that even though she really annoyed him at times, his little sister always was and always will be his biggest fan.
My daughter is 8 and is in her sixth season of dance. She's had the same teacher since she started, and a handful of the same classmates too. She looks up to her teacher and finds comfort in another strong woman other than mom. She's played soccer too, but that gave way to cheerleading this fall and next year she wants to try her hand at field hockey. She's incredibly well-rounded and isn't afraid to branch out and try new things.She's not afraid of the hair and makeup, hardwood floors and crowds of dance recitals or cheering competitions and she's not afraid of the dirty fields where she's scored goals and hit home runs. When she is on a team, she is part of something bigger than herself, something that needs each piece to work properly in order to succeed. There is hard work and dedication, and there is laughter and camaraderie. Just this weekend I watched the dance teacher leave the classroom to let the girls be alone and choreograph their own routine. We watched, the teacher and us moms, from the mirrored window as our daughters agreed then disagreed, had a mature conversation with some sass thrown in, and did what it took to get their group together and perform. I wanted to go in and stop my daughter as I watched her snap at a classmate but I didn't... I stood back and watched as they figured it out. And they did. A group of 8 year olds came together, defined their roles, and were successful at creating a routine. These girls, stuck somewhere between being a little kid and a pre-teen, did what many adults stuck inside a board room can't do.
I don't know if I'm doing this parenting thing the right way but I do think it's the right way for my family. I'll continue to chauffeur kids from school to gyms to baseball fields and back. I'll wash stained baseball pants and pack coolers full of Gatorade for the team and I won't forget the sunflower seeds. I'll continue to be a backstage mom during my daughter's dance recitals and try with bated breath to get all of the girls' headpieces on the right way. I'll cheer through soccer games even though my son has been playing for 7 years and I still don't understand all the rules. I'll spend my entire Saturday inside the gym for a cheering competition to watch my daughter and her teammates perform the best they can. I'll take way too many pictures of it all so they can look back some day and remember all the details. I'll do it because they love it and because it's what we choose as a family.
I bet O'Bryant isn't sure if she's doing things the right way either, but she's doing them the right way for her family. There's no way to be a perfect mom but O'Bryant and I both love our kids madly and deeply and we're doing the best we can. Chances are neither one of us will know if we're doing things the right way until our kids' therapy bills roll in 20 years from now.