A couple of weeks ago, my eleven-year-old son and two of his best friends were chattering in the back seat as we headed out for dinner. It was an impromptu hangout/sleepover, and everyone was in fine spirits. I casually asked one of the boys if he was going to be in the winter basketball program that he and my son had been in last year. He nodded, “Yes, but my other league is about to start practicing pretty soon too.” My son replied, “Yeah, that must be the travel team. They don’t ask me to be in that one.”
The conversation quickly shifted to what the boys wanted for dinner, but for the moment my mind was stuck on basketball. The ‘other league’. The one to which my son did not belong. Clearly, it didn’t particularly bother him; he is not a bad player, but he is not of that elite, seemingly born-with-his-hand-on-a-ball level either. It’s the same with baseball; he plays, he has fun, but he’s not one of ‘those players’. We’ve had conversations about this. He enjoys playing sports, but he doesn’t have that natural physicality that some have, nor that killer competitive drive. It’s fun for him, but he’s not destined for an athletic scholarship someday, and that’s okay. As I drove, I reminded myself that he’s a brilliant kid: he’s in the TAG program at school, a voracious reader/absorber of all things WWII-related, writes great stories, has an engineer’s brain, loves being part of the Lego robotics team, and wants more than anything to go to the Air Force Academy and design fighter jets. More importantly, he’s loving and kind and a generally great person. So, why did I feel that fleeting kicked-in-the-gut feeling? Why the need to remind myself of his positive qualities?
I know these things to be true; not just of my son, but my daughter as well. They both have their interests and areas in which they excel. Even so, there are times when I read my friends’ Facebook posts or listen to conversations at practices or school events and feel like I’m letting my kids down. This mom takes her daughter to dance, piano and tumbling. That one takes her son to the special sports clinics that the colleges put on, and has him playing up a level in the local leagues to keep it competitive for him. What am I doing? I sometimes think. I have never been an athlete. I danced, I cheered, I was in speech and band, but when it comes to sports, I’m out of my league. So I beat myself up that I’m not helping my kids like I should. Then I realize, they don’t care–so, why do I? Why do I allow myself to stress out over things that don’t concern my kids in the least?
There’s a thing out there called the Pressured Parents Phenomenon (also known as competitive parenting). I recently stumbled across it while reading an Atlantic article my friend Rita shared on Pinterest, of all places. After the first paragraph of the article, Why Back-to-School-Night Made Me Feel Like a Bad Mom, I was sucked in. I totally identified. My concern isn’t about me, it’s a fear that I am somehow letting my kids down. As the article states, “PPP is a visceral anxiety, triggered when the ever-increasing competition–academic, athletic, social or artistic–that our kids face today switches on our psychological hardwiring. It’s an internal pressure so strong that we can’t rest until we feel our child is safe–has gained admission to that certain magnet school or won a spot in the school orchestra”. This goes hand in hand with the “Busy Child Syndrome”; the one where some parents feel the need to keep their children ‘busy’ with activities every night of the week lest they feel like they are failing them. Check out the Atlantic article; do you identify? Can you relate? If so, hopefully the author’s suggestions for how to “vaccinate” yourself against PPP will be helpful. While I didn’t need the article to realize that my fears were unfounded, it was encouraging to realize I’m not the only mom who feels this way sometimes.