Plus, It’s a Lie
I’m hanging out at my son’s soccer practice, and I overhear two dads. Their conversation goes something like this:
“Did you play in the tournament this weekend?”
“Yeah. I got a call from the coach saying they needed a sub, so I agreed to play.”
“How’d it go?”
“Oh, it was great! We won!”
Right now, I am pretty impressed. These dads love soccer so much that they not only watch their kids practice three times a week, but they play on their own teams! In tournaments!
At my current undisclosed age, I am a bit amazed with exercise in general. As the years go by, it takes more effort to achieve less impressive results, so I’m a little in awe of the soccer dads.
Then I hear one say, “Yeah, so at the tournament, I played all three games.” Wow, I am thinking. In one day? You animal!
But then he adds, “In the second game my son got injured, so he had to play keeper for the third game.”
The dads speak with intensity—the tiny size of the son, his fierce determination not to let a single goal in, the loud cheering from the sidelines as he made yet another save.
I’m thinking, Wait. It was your son who played three games? Your son who got the invitation from the coach? I open my mouth to ask, decide against it, and pretend to squint at something on the field instead. All my synapses fire as I realize: these dads are using the first person to talk about their kids! This feels really unhealthy. Plus, it’s a lie!
Sometimes, we parents are guilty of hogging the spotlight as it shines on our kids. Though this is the most extreme example I’ve seen, it unfortunately isn’t isolated. I’ve heard some say, “We’ve been playing indoor soccer for years,” when casual observation makes it clear that no, they have not.
But their kids have. Why are we tempted to co-opt that for ourselves? I’ve done it. You might have, too.
It would be comforting, in a snobbish, acceptably stereotyping sort of way to assume that this phenomenon is isolated to certain arenas. Minivans and soccer moms have long been scorned, along with beauty pageant families and parents who show their infants flashcards to improve their chances at getting accepted into Harvard. However, this is not a soccer problem – it is a parenting problem. We all have childhood friends who were under pressure to be class president, and also prom royalty – as well as “Most Likely to Succeed” and valedictorian – all because their parents did those things in high school. My own husband played tennis for seven years because his parents wanted him to, even though he’d rather be swimming or playing viola or cutting his toenails in public – all because his dad played college varsity tennis. Why do we do this to our kids?
I’m pretty sure that, in my diary from high school (right next to where I signed Mrs. Jeff Alberts in twenty different fonts) I had a list:
Things I’ll Never Do to My Kids
- Kiss them on the lips in front of friends
- Give them an 11 pm curfew the night of Homecoming
- Make them into mini-me’s
These rules are universal. So, if basically none of us set out to bend our kids to the iron pressure of our past, why do we end up doing this?
To be truthful, I guess some of us know exactly what we’re doing – and feel justified about doing it. I was confronted by this just the other day. A friend of mine and I were talking with our two sons, who are teammates and classmates. One boy asked a question, made a comment – honestly, I have blocked out who said it and what he said because of the volcanic force my friend’s reply had on my psyche.
She said, “You know, honey, parents like to see their kids do well because we live vicariously through you.”
I had never heard someone even admit to doing this, let alone talk about it like it was a good thing, something to be expected, something to motivate our kids in a positive fashion. Just writing this out is making my nose twitchy.
The thing is, vicarious living is fake living. These are the lies we tell ourselves:
Because we got to do it, our kids should do it.
Because we didn’t get to do it, our kids should do it.
Because we were good at it, our kids should do it.
Because we were no good at it, our kids should do it.
Because we loved it, our kids should do it.
Because we hated it, our kids should do it.
This is an inordinate amount of pressure for any human—especially a tiny one, whose bones aren’t yet strong enough to support the weight of thirty or forty years’ worth of someone else’s wins and losses.
There must be a way to encourage our kids without leaving them the legacy of inherited dreams. Our kids can dream big dreams all on their own, and we need to allow them to do the hard work it takes to get there – and then step back and let them enjoy time in the spotlight all by themselves.
Meanwhile, it’s time for me to go play soccer!
Dawn Claflin has taught creative writing for 15 years at the high school level and is currently embarking on a career as a writer; he two children are supportive of her new adventure. You will find her work in the November 2015 issue of Pockets magazine.