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A Good Problem to Have

I hope everyone is having a terrific day.  We are approaching another weekend where many of us will be involved watching our children play their various sports.  It’s in this context that I will answer another parenting question.  Although the blog will focus on school age children, even if you have younger ones- pay attention.  You may be fortunate enough to have this problem one day. 

The dad, who I will call Mike, is married with 3 children.  The kids are doing great academically (mostly A’s sprinkled with a B here and there).  Athletically, they are also doing well- especially the middle child (So far, it seems like I need Mike’s advice).

Here are the concerns.  Mike’s kids work extremely hard and he wants to know how to maximize their abilities without burning them out.  My interpretation of the email was he was especially worried about this happening athletically. Mike doesn’t want to push his children to the breaking point.  He singled out his middle child who is very gifted. Mike wonders about this child playing sports with his age group because he would be so much better versus playing against older children so he wouldn’t always be the best on his team. He’s also wondering if there are burn out signs to look for.  My first reaction to this email was (I hope my readers are slowly enjoying a cup of coffee because this might take a while). 

Before you read on, please take a second to think how you would answer Mike’s question.  If you would like to help Mike, feel free by adding a comment at the bottom.

I hope Mike along with all of my readers know I’m not one to tell people what to do (on most occasions) but I will give you some things to think about.  Therefore, I’m not going to tell Mike which age group he should allow his middle child to participate.  The point is I want Mike to make the best decision for his family.

Three questions came to my mind that Mike should answer in the privacy of his home.  What are the goals for the children?  What’s the point?  Who’s calling the shots?

What are the goals for the children?  By this I mean what does Mike hope to achieve when his children play sports?  Is it physical fitness, learning teamwork skills, an athletic scholorship, a professional career, etc?  Knowing the goals will help Mike choose a path.  For example, if his kids only played for fun, they wouldn’t get burned out until it wasn’t fun anymore.  Contrarily, an athletic scholorship requires a lot of drive, extra time on the ball fields, and a commitment to excellence.  When thinking about the goals, everyone had better be on board.  (Specifically Mike’s wife and the children)

Understand, I don’t mind how Mike’s family approaches sports of choice as long as the children’s grades remain high.  What troubles me is when I see parents who dog their kids repeatedly over a sport. It often means they are trying to get their kids to accomplish something in sports they didn’t have the ability to accomplish.  Sports are supposed to be an outlet for the children- not the parents.  

What’s the point?    Most parents (including myself) want to see their kids excel in sports- but why?  Is Mike looking for his children to develop self confidence, a sense of pride, and/or friendship with the other players?

Could there also be a slightly darker point?  I talk in depth in my book that some of my former coaches had only one point- winning.  We are talking about amateur athletics.  If a parent’s or coaches sole point is to win, that could be a problem.  The pressure for any child to always win may be enough to drive him/her out of the sport.

I think Mike is safe if he genuinely didn’t care how his kids performed in a sport as long as they tried their best and had fun.  Sometimes as a parent, it’s wise to tell yourself to “back off” and it isn’t easy-especially if your child excels.

Who’s calling the shots?  I would like Mike to be as encouraging as he wants.  In the end though, let the children make up their mind on how far they want to go with sports.   The truth is there is only a miniscule chance the kids will be playing next to Kobe Bryant or Derek Jeter in the future.  More likely than not, the children will need to use their brains to earn the same things Mike has in life (a college degree, stable income, and great kids).

Derek JeterAs far as pushing kids to the breaking point and signs to look for, that’s a bit tough for me because I don’t think I’ve pushed a child that hard.  Therefore, I haven’t seen it firsthand. Subtle changes in behavior or attitude may be something to watch for.  One question I would have for Mike is this. “Does quality time with your kids revolve around anything besides sports?”  Truthfully, if Mike does lots of activities outside sports with his kids, the odds of burning them out on sports would be minimal in my opinion. 

Keep this in mind as well.  If Mike is a strong authority figure in his house, I wouldn’t expect his children to come to him and explain that they need a break or they no longer wanted to play a particular sport.  It probably wouldn’t happen because of the mere possibility of disappointing their father.  That’s why looking for more subtle changes is important.

Depending on their family dynamic, if Mike’s wife happens to be more sensitive than him (as is the case in my home), she may be a valuable resource.  I believe Mike should consider expressing his concerns to her, explain he really needs her help, and tell her to let him know if the children are giving her some negative vibes.  This only will work though if Mike promises not to argue when she speaks up.  Any arguing could result in Mike losing the one resource that can help keep his fears in check.   

Let’s get this straight as well.  As long as Mike continues to quietly monitor himself, it’s less likely the kids will burn out.  Just by writing me this email, I have the feeling Mike is already accomplishing this. 

 I hope my general thoughts and questions help. I want Mike and all my readers to have all the fun you can watching your kids play the sports they love.  Be encouraging and only push as long as the children express an interest in being pushed.  It’s a special time so savor every minute of it and allow your children to do the same thing!

If you happen to enjoy today’s blog, please pass it around to some other parents who would like it as well.  Thanks so much!!!

On Monday, I’ll be back with an education blog. There are several topics I have in mind.  Hopefully, it will be worth the wait.   

Guilty Mom Complex

Hello to all!!!  Pardon me while I catch my breath.  I happened to look at my stats before deciding to write this blog and discovered you made Wednesday’s blog (Sowing Seeds) the top hit blog I have ever written.  Remember the contest involving 200 hits?  You actually did it!  Couple that with the fact that the month of December had more total hits by far than my first two months combined and what you have left is—a speechless blogger.  OK, not completely speechless; but you get my drift.  Thank you for reading my blog and passing it along to other parents!  Now, let’s get down to business.

Speechless (film)Promise I found this movie poster AFTER writing I was “speechless”

As a lot of us know, Friday’s are saved for questions from parents and today I have a chosen a difficult one.  A mom I’ll call “Barb” asks, “How can I not feel guilty as a mom because I can’t do it all?”  Barb is married, works full time, and has 3 children.   She feels she never has the time to accomplish all the things she wants to do in her professional and personal life.

Barb’s story and general question is all too familiar for a lot of us- not just moms. Some of us struggle to put in the time needed at work with the time wanted at home.  Keeping the house clean, maintaining a social life, and spending quality time with our children/spouse is hard.  Oh, I almost forgot that some of us would like to do more volunteer work in our places of worship or communities.  The burden can feel very heavy at times.   

The first thing I want Barb to know is “doing it all” is a myth.  Seriously, how many people does anyone know who can really “do it all?”  I can’t think of one.  While I’ll admit some of us do a better job than others, no one is perfect. 

Placing pressure on yourself to do it all is an exercise in futility.  I do believe though placing a little pressure on yourself is a good thing so let’s redirect that pressure into something a bit more manageable.

For example, let’s say you don’t think you are spending enough time with the kids.  I would challenge you to know exactly how much time you DO spend with your kids.  If you would like more time, here are some ideas.

1.  Pull your kid out of school during your lunch break.  If this idea doesn’t appeal to you, how about eating lunch at their school?  Clear it with teachers if you pull your kid out of school so you can figure out the best time to do it (as not to interfere with quizzes- tests).

2  Another idea is to schedule kids similar to meetings at work.  Many of us have a calender which is typically full.  Block out time purposely to know what you are going to do with your kids and how long it’s going to take.  Unless there’s an unavoidable crisis at work, don’t reschedule your kids.  Take this as seriously as you do any other meeting or you may not be as likely to follow through. 

3.  Keep your kids involved in activities with you at home.  Instead of you making dinner for the family- let the family work together to make the dinner.  This creates more family time and saves you from having to do it all.

I could go over countless problems overworked and overstressed moms and dads have like Barb; but here’s another piece of advice that may help.  On a piece of paper, prioritize what is important to you right now, what can wait, and what you can delegate.

For example, my wife and I are having a New Years Eve party.  The problem is I am raising and educating my kids, marketing a book, and writing this blog.  I don’t have time to do (above and beyond) cleaning.  Regardless, I wrote a small list this morning of simple things I could do while the kids were occupied.  

At 12:00, I decided to bake the boys a pizza for lunch. The plan was to clean some things while it was baking and while they were eating.  Sound easy enough?

Well, it was easy until I glanced over and saw my oven on fire!  Although I didn’t write it down, I knew the priority was to drop the cleaning supplies and put the fire out.  I am thankful I caught the problem in time.  My house is fine and no one was hurt.  Thinking about this story, here is my question.  What fires are going on in your life that have to be extinguished?  It’s simply called prioritizing.  When you stretch yourself too thin, you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished little and the fires will still roar on.  

Here’s a final thought to illustrate the point.  There were only two things I really focused on as an elementary school teacher in the public schools- reading and math.  If everything else in the day didn’t go well, I could accept that.  I didn’t have the same attitude about weekly faculty meetings, didn’t care about the state (of Kentucky) and what they do to teachers in bottom tier schools with low test scores, and didn’t care about what other teachers gossiped. 

When children can read and perform math problems, they can do almost anything academically. But if kids can’t do those two things, they won’t make it in the classroom or in life.  Low reading and math skills were the fires I tried to put out every day.

To Barb and all of my guilt filled moms and dads: please lighten up a bit, prioritize what’s important, and have a fantastic 2011.  Now, if you don’t mind, I have some cleaning that needs to be done.    

Sowing Seeds

Buckle up early for this blog because I’m jumping in head first!

The kids I’ve worked with in my life have looked up to me the same way your kids look up to you.  It didn’t matter if it was St. Josephs Children’s Home, as a public school teacher, or my own kids.  Being the authority figure and acting like the authority figure are two different things though.  For example, a teacher may BE the authority figure the kids are supposed to look up to; but if they don’t ACT like the authority figure, respect over time is lost.

The reason I made this distinctions is because we, as authority figures, have a golden opportunity with our kids.  As long as they respect us, they will take our words and actions to be meaningful and trusted.  Because of this simple fact, here’s the plan.  Let’s encourage kids to achieve heights they never thought they could. 

Children victimized by the United Kingdom's Ch...
Kids are looking to us right now for help!

At  St. Joseph’s Children’s Home, we worked a lot on behavior because that was a major factor in getting a child ready to be in a  foster home or better yet- adopted.   Because kids there looked up to me (along with many other super house parents) I used to praise them to no end for good behavior.  The various forms of praise from me were the seeds sown.  On the flip side, I didn’t baby them when they behaved poorly.  I had a clear goal of where I wanted them behaviorally even if they had lost some hope for ever being adopted. For some children, the goal was achieved but I worked tirelessly for years in order for that dream to be realized by all.

Another example could be found when I was teaching.  In the classroom, kids would sometimes tell me they couldn’t read.  Those were fighting words in my classroom.  I would go out of my way over time to prove to them they COULD read but they needed to practice to get better.  Since I was the authority figure, I could sow those seeds within a child and eventually have them reading at a higher level over time.

Don’t get me wrong.  Sowing seeds doesn’t always work.  But, it’s not my job to know when this tactic will work and when it won’t.  It’s my job to command the respect of children so when I sow the seeds, they have a chance of “sprouting.”

Here’s an example of a time your humble blogger apparently failed.  This story occurred on a picturesque fall day.  My son, Cameron, and I were driving to one of his tennis lessons. I remember pumping him up saying things like “let’s really concentrate today” and “hit the ball like your coach taught you.”  I also threw in “you can beat those kids even if they are a little older.”  In my own mind, I sounded like General Patton pumping up the troops.  In other words, the seeds were clearly sown and greatness was sure to follow.  It was at this point that Cameron exclaimed out of the blue, “Look daddy, there’s a bird in that nest!”

For the record, Cameron played fine that day.  Regardless, I’m not sure anything I said registered at the time;  but that’s not the point.  I tried to do what I could to encourage Cameron to play his best tennis. 

It’s not only your choice when to sow the seeds; but what seeds are to be sown and how often.  Though my tennis example with Cameron may prove it doesn’t always work, I will guarantee there are many times it does. In order to get the best out of kids, they have to have confidence.  Though parents sowing seeds is not the entire equation for a child to excel, it’s certainly an important step.

On a final note, any parent who has a child’s respect can also fall victim to sowing negative seeds.  If, for example, I told my children they were ugly, dumb, inferior to others, or not very good at something, they would completely believe me.  All parents should watch their words very carefully because the consequences are potentially devastating.  I once heard long ago, “don’t be the parent who thinks they know how the book ends before the final chapter is even written.” Even if your child isn’t the best at something (and whose child is) it’s still important to make them feel good about themselves and what they are doing. 

We want our children to be happy.  We want the best for them. Together, let’s sow seeds to give our kids every chance to achieve these things.

My next blog will be this Friday, I have several interesting parenting questions to choose from. If you have a parenting question, it can be sent to

Take care of yourselves and your families and please don’t forget to pass this along to other parents!!!