The other day someone asked me if I had ever tried paddle boarding. I laughed to myself as I pictured what it would be like to try to stand my uncoordinated, clumsy self upright on a board while floating on the ocean with only my balance and a paddle to prevent me from being tossed into the water by a large wave. No, I have never tried paddle boarding. But, as I woke the next morning and quickly ran through the ever growing to-do list in my mind, I started to wonder if maybe I have been paddle boarding but just didn't realize it.
Perhaps the act of trying to balance parenting, wifeing (let's pretend it's a real word), friending (another real word), working, homeowning and all the other responsibilities that come with adulting, is a bit like balancing on a paddle board. As I carried the image of myself paddle boarding through my day, I became more convinced that paddle boarding is the perfect metaphor for how I approach my life.
Some days I can barely even stand up on my paddle board, no matter how calm or still the water is that day and no matter how strong my paddle is at the time. Sometimes there is just too much weight on my shoulders and all I can do is plunk myself down on my board, legs criss-crossed-applesauce and sit there. On those days, days when my 7 year old throws himself to the floor in a full-fledged tantrum because it is time to put his shoes on or days when I get into the car already late for work and realize that my low-tire pressure light is on, all I can do is float and let the waves and ocean guide me. I just hold onto the board for dear life, hoping that tomorrow will be a better day or that I might bump into a fellow paddle boarder along the way who can help me stand up.
Some days I find the strength to stand with ease and I am suddenly an expert paddle boarder. On those days I glide over the ocean's surface, making dinner, folding laundry, paying bills and shuttling my children to and from events on time like a pro. This paddle boarding thing sure feels like second nature on those days.
Sometimes I even find myself sitting comfortably on the board, legs dangling playfully over the edge without a care. My children are happy and polite, my work responsibilities are up to date, my house is clean and my financial stress is low. These are the days when I wish I could freeze time and soak up all the laughter, love, light and pure joy I see around me.
But then, inevitably, the water changes, as it always does, without warning. Flat tires. Sick children. Work emergencies. Sick pets. Health concerns. Broken washing machines. Suddenly I am sea sick and just want to angrily cast aside my stupid paddle and board and give up. It's too much. It's too hard. I'm not built for paddle boarding. What was I thinking? Why is everyone else out there balancing so beautifully on their boards today? What is wrong with me?
Always eager to learn more, I decided to conduct a brief bit of research on paddle boarding to see if this metaphor could really hold water (pun intended). In my research, I stumbled upon a very informative website for beginning paddle boarders. Here, Green Water Sports provides new paddle boarders with 10 tips to help them become successful at their new craft. After reviewing these tips in detail, it turns out that they could easily be applied to many of life's overwhelming aspects of adulting. Below I have included all 10 tips and their applicability to the ever challenging task of parenting or, as I may refer to it from now on, paddle board parenting:
1. Use a leash
No, not the literal leash. Although I have certainly met some children who, in some settings, could benefit from being on a physical leash, I am not referring to that kind of leash. I'm talking more along the lines of the type of leash that is a safety leash - just to make sure you don't lose your board when a wave tosses you into the water or you lose your balance. Who and what are your lifelines that you can turn to when you get knocked off your paddle board? Who can you tether yourself to for safety? Who do you want to make sure you don't lose along the way?
2. Make sure your paddle is the right way
While there is no wrong way to eat a Reese's, it seems that there is a wrong way to use your paddle. Sometimes our guts steer us the right way as we paddle board our way through parenting but sometimes our instincts are just wrong and if we truly reflect on it, we are using our paddle incorrectly. Sometimes we could benefit from checking with someone else to be sure that our paddle is the right way. It is ok to ask for advice and help. Who will let you know if your paddle is not the right way? Who can you turn to when you need to double check your paddle?
3. Face the right way
Initially this tip seemed rather silly and simple but as I reflected on how it could be applied to parenting, I realized that as parents it is sometimes easy to face the wrong way. We all have had moments where we look backwards, focused on the mistakes we've made behind us, or we look forward but only at the scary possibilities. Sometimes we need a reminder as parents to face the right way, face forward towards hope and the future, face towards the here and now, leave the past in the past. What is the right way for you to face in your parenting now?
4. Paddle with your core
Apparently, many new paddle boarders believe they should paddle with their arms. Doing so, however, uses more energy and results in quicker fatigue. Green Water Sports suggests that we should be using our core, the strongest muscles of our body, to do the work. What are your strongest muscles as parents? What is at the core of your parenting? How can you utilize that inner strength to help you steer your paddle board in a more energy efficient manner?
5. Look at the horizon
When you are trying to paddle board, looking down and constantly checking your foot position can actually make you lose balance and wind up in the water. Looking at the horizon helps paddle boarders to stay afloat. Looking at the horizon has also been known to help reduce seasickness. I'm going to try to remember this tip next time I find myself nauseous on my paddle board. As parents paddle boarding through life we should stand tall, look ahead and trust our feet. Let the horizon steady us. What is your horizon as a parent? What steadies you?
6. Stay out of the way
There are lots of other paddle boarders out there! Let's try to avoid cramming into the same space, sending each other toppling into the water. Respect each other's paddling and give each other room and space to fall. Some of us are having good days, filled with balance, strong cores and steady feet. Others are clinging to their boards in sheer panic. Respect each other's differences. Who do you want near you when you are paddling? Who do you need to stay away from?
7. Fall the right way
Even professional paddle boarders fall sometimes. No one is perfect. The same holds true for parenting. We all will fail and make mistakes along the way. How we fall and climb back on the board is what matters - both in parenting and paddle boarding. What is your plan for how you will get back on the board the next time you fall off? What is your plan to make sure you fall the right way?
8. Ride waves you can handle
Green Water Sports says, "Be smart and ride waves in the right conditions for your skill level." Ah, if life could be sure to only give me problems that match my skill level! However, life sends us giant waves and winds for which we are not prepared and while we can't suddenly develop the appropriate skills, we can find places to turn for help. Where can you turn when the waves get too big for you to handle?
9. Watch the wind
Know the forecast. Spend some time talking to others. Prepare yourself and notice the signs of changing conditions. But when all of the advanced planning fails (as it inevitable does!), Green Water Sports details a concept called "paddling prone" that paddle boarders utilize when the wind and waves get too strong. Sometimes all we can do is drop to our bellies, let go of the paddle and use our hands to steer us through the rough parts. How do you know when you need to paddle prone? Do you beat yourself up over needing to paddle prone sometimes?
10. Look after your board and your paddle
Someone once told me that self care is not selfish. Just as paddle boarders need to take care of their board and paddles, checking for cracks, dents and needed repairs, so too do we need to constantly take care of ourselves as parents. We can't paddle board our way through parenting if we are broken. How can you look after your own board and paddle?
"Unless you paddle for the wave, you'll never know if you could catch it. But once you do... Ride it as long as you can. Love as long as you can." - Abigail Spencer
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Like many other parents, I read all the baby books, bought all the baby products and prepared as best I could for parenthood before my oldest child was born almost 11 years ago. As we struggled through sleepless nights, terrible 2's and horrible 3's, I looked forward to that sweet spot; the place where childhood would become easier for the entire family. I can't completely say where it happened, when it happened or how it happened. But, it happened. Parenting became comfortable and even when things were not easy, they were at least familiar.
Recently, though, things began changing. Clouds started to fill my usually bright skies. Then came the rain. At first, it started with big fat single raindrops that would be scattered throughout my days and weeks; just a few little drops of rain, here and there. The rain drops were so few and far between that I could almost completely ignore them. Then came the occasional rain storms; brief but harder to ignore. Finally, the full-on hurricane rolled ashore. Clearly I had missed out on the warnings. I realized quickly that I probably should have planned more, prepared more or at least looked into umbrella options. But, it's here now and I can't ignore it anymore.
My baby is growing up and things don't look that familiar anymore.
I watched my baby at bat a few weeks ago. The lights were bright and the crowd was cheering as he stepped up to the plate, the lead-off batter for his team in the bottom of the sixth inning in a semi-finals game. As he tapped his bat around home plate in his ritual motion, I realized that this would likely be the last time I would see the 10 year old version of him at bat. Gone was my shy 5 year old who would stand at the plate, too terrified to swing. Totally unprepared for such emotion, I quickly fought back the tears and swallowed away the lump that had formed in my throat. A few days later, we met some families at a local water park and my visions of us exploring the park together as a family were quickly dashed. He was delighted to spend the day with his friends, only joining us, his family, when we forced him to eat, hydrate and sunblock. Gone was the timid child who needed to hold my hand and needed reassurance about ride safety. And then, just a few days ago, I watched him take the football field with his new team, a team that only last year had seemed to be filled with almost-teenagers; kids so much bigger than him. Gone is his need for me to be present at each and every single practice. Gone is the little boy who feared making a tackle. Let's not forget the ever increasing worries about things like boyfriends/girlfriends in his peer group, social media accounts to learn about and monitor and constant requests for a cell phone. The hurricane has arrived and it is time to figure out how to survive it.
After reflecting on my feelings over the past few weeks, I have come to realize that although the initial emotions hit me like a hurricane for which I did not prepare, I'm learning to see this point in time as something far different than a storm. Rather, most days it feels like we are standing on a very long bridge. On one side of the bridge is his childhood - filled with transformers, his raspy baby voice, his baby blankie, him needing to hold my hand and his belief that Disney characters are real. On the other side of the bridge is his adolescence and all the things that will come along with it; things that I can't even fully comprehend yet.
Some days we are closer to the childhood side of the bridge, especially at night when he asks me to tuck him in, talk about our day and whisper some good things to look forward to the next day. On those days, I can barely see the other side of the bridge. All I see is the child version of him: sweet, innocent, small, safe. Other days, though, we are closer to the adolescent side of the bridge and the childhood side of the bridge is completely out of my line of sight. On those days, I see a young man when I look at him and I can envision the possibilities for his future: high school sports, driving, college prep.
No one ever told me about this bridge. At least, I don't think I remember hearing about it in all my pre-parenting preparation. This place, this bridge, is completely foreign to me. Some parts of the bridge are beautiful and well-crafted with great big reinforced railings. Those parts feel safe and sort of exciting and I want to linger there a bit longer, soaking in the final pieces of his childhood. Other parts of the bridge, however, are worn-down and if you aren't careful, you can fall off the edge. Those are the parts that scare me and keep me awake some nights; the parts that have me asking other parents for their advice. What will happen once we get to the other side? What will life be like then? What will our relationship with each other be like then?
This is usually the part of my blog where I offer up some tips, advice from researchers or insights of my own. If you've read this far hoping to find some, I have to apologize. I've got none to offer today. I have never been on this bridge before and clearly didn't prepare for it. All I can do is name where we are because I know some of you are on similar bridges. It's scary, exciting, terrifying and wonderful all at the same time. Completely bittersweet. While most times I want to take him firmly by the hand, turn around and head back to the childhood side of the bridge, the side I know really well, I also find myself sometimes looking with anticipation toward the adolescent side of the bridge.Maybe it's not so bad?
While I do not know the best way to spend my time on the bridge, I do know that I want to try to learn as many lessons as I can from this bridge. I want to find a balance between giving my baby his independence and holding onto our precious family time. I want to continue to let him hold onto little pieces of his childhood, like that baby blankie that he still keeps on his bed, while providing him space to make his own mistakes and figure out who he will be. I'm sure I will tumble off the bridge at one point or another but I think I can climb back on and keep moving forward.
So, for now, I am going to enjoy our time on the bridge; our time between childhood and adolescence. And maybe, just maybe, we will see that this is another sweet spot in our family's journey.
Any guesses as to what I'm describing?
NFL games? Red Sox vs. Yankee games? NHL playoffs?
Nope. Youth sporting events. Youth. Kids. People who are just as close in age to being toddlers as they are to being adults. Our children.
Let that all sink in. Re-read it. This is some of what I have been seeing over the past year at children's baseball, football and basketball games. Is it a list to be proud of? If the list is followed by a title like "Undefeated" or "Champs" does that make the list more acceptable?
This post will be as difficult for some to read as it was for me to write. There is a distinct possibility that my words will offend some people. I apologize in advance. I can guarantee some people will find my view too soft; too social worker-y; too unrealistic. I am asking you to hold up the proverbial mirror and take a good, long, critical look at yourself as parents of children in youth sports. Honest self reflection is not easy; it is hard, painful work.
Let me be the first to publicly and openly admit that I am guilty of some of the items I've listed. Negativity can be a catchy little bugger and I have found myself quickly sucked into the negativity vortex on more than one occasion. While I am being honest, I should admit that I have probably sometimes been the start of the negativity. But, I'm not proud of it. I can do better. All of us can do better.
What would youth sports look like if we all practiced some of the following strategies?
Be Proud, Not Boastful
I get it. There are moments where we want our children to feel like they are the best. In our eyes, they are the best. Besides, there will always be someone who is the best so why shouldn't it be our own child? Of course we are filled with pride when our child makes the varsity squad or an all star team or has the best stats. We should absolutely share that pride with the world! But, can we find a way to express pride in our children without putting down someone else's child? Can we teach our children to be proud of themselves without being arrogant? Can we be a bit more mindful about HOW we express our pride? Can we help our children to win with grace and dignity? Do we really need to pit our children against each other? Where will that lead them as they move through the really difficult parts of their childhood and adolescence?
Let it Go
It seems that our social media accounts have become the high school cafeteria for adults; ripe with mean girl behavior and teasing. Passive aggressive memes and posts litter our social media feeds, often under the guise of being funny, insightful or interesting comments and quotes. If we are being honest, though, sometimes they are nothing more than hurtful jabs at other parents and coaches. Will we tolerate such behavior from our own children in a few years on social media? I hope not. So, why do we allow ourselves to stoop so low now? Why do we tolerate it from our own friends when we see it? We are not going to like everyone and not everyone is going to like us. People will push our buttons and make us feel crazy, for sure. It's our jobs as the grown ups to find a way to cope with those feelings in a positive and respectable manner. We have to be the role models - even when we don't want that job.
Point out the Positive
Negativity spreads like wild fire. One coach, parent, ump or child with negative energy can set off a chain reaction of negativity and soon everyone has it. You know what it looks like. Slumped shoulders. Eye rolling. Head shaking. Slamming things. Muttering under breath. It happens. But, do you know what else spreads like wild fire? Positivity. It's ok to cheer on 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 year olds. It really is. Yes, even after they make a mistake - even a huge mistake. You can still find something positive to say in most circumstances. Despite what some people say, I firmly believe that building up our children will NOT create a generation of helpless, spineless, whine bags.
I would never advocate only pointing out the positive and I am not advocating for participation trophies for everyone. We should absolutely be providing our children with clear and constructive feedback as we help them to be better versions of themselves. How can you encourage them to reach their goals? Can we do it without demeaning them in front of everyone? What if we were all a bit more thoughtful about how and when we provide such feedback to our children? When are we doing it out of anger and frustration versus the result of thoughtful consideration?
Winning Isn't Everything
Sometimes it isn't about the winning at all. Sometimes some of life's greatest lessons come from the loss. Sure, state, district and national titles would all be amazing. But, if you are being honest, how much would they really truly matter to our children in 10 years? Will such things define them? Will they define us? If so, what does that mean about us?
Remember that They are Kids
We are raising children in a much different world and a much different time than when we were children. Today's children have a lot on their plates and while they may never have to walk uphill in the snow barefoot for two miles each way to get to school like we had to do, their lives are plenty hard enough right now. They are still children. Quite a few of them still hold tight to the stories of Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy. Would it be terrible to let them just have fun and enjoy their youth? Would it be ok for them to enjoy the game, even if they lose?
Bruce Brown and Rob Miller, founders of Proactive Coaching, LLC, found in their research that most children just want to hear parents tell them "I love to watch you play." That's it. They don't want positive or negative feedback after a game; they just want to be children. Their research also found that for many children their least favorite part of a sports game was the ride home with their parents (Henson, 2012). Think about it - what gets said in the car after your children's games?
There is ample research out there today about the outcomes of youth sports. Do you know what a lot of the research suggests? According to Merkel (2013), analysis of multiple youth sports studies found that participation in youth sports is neither inherently good or bad for our children. Rather, whether our children's participation in youth sports turns out to be a good thing for them depends on a variety of factors. Peers, parents, coaches and even society and the media can heavily influence whether youth sports are positive experiences for children. Notice what is missing there - number of wins and losses, level of elite athleticism, number of trophies. We, the adults, have a pretty big impact on whether their participation in sports is a good thing. Maybe we are focusing too much on the wrong things!
So, next time you are at your child's game, I encourage you to take a moment and breathe it all in. Look around at what is happening. Remember that they are children and remember the pretty big role you play in youth sports and the impact those sports could have on your child. These days are going to be over soon - for them and for us. How do you want your child to remember these times? How do you want to remember these times?
Could we all do better? I believe we can. We should. For us. For each other. For them.
Henson, S. (2012). What make a nightmare sports parent -- And what makes a great one. Retrieved August 1, 2016 from http://www.thepostgame.com/blog/more-family-fun/201202/what-makes-nightmare-sports-parent
Merkel, D. M. (2013). Youth sport: Positive and negative impact on young athletes. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, 4, 151-160.
About Changing Perspectives
I often find myself encouraging people to consider changing their perspective or reframe the way in which they view things. This blog is an extension of that practice and is also an opportunity for me to write from a number of different perspectives including clinician, educator, mother, friend and supervisor. Blog topics are also quite varied and changeable. Topics explored include, but are certainly not limited to, grief, parenting, health and wellness and relationships. Join me and explore a number of changing perspectives!