When the past invades your present (parenting)

My son attends a gymnastics class once a week. On so many levels, it’s a good thing: he gets some socialization, gets a chance to learn new skills, gets practice with listening to authority figures, I get an hour to myself (stuck on a hard bench, but still). He enjoys it, and has been exposed to so many different new things. Did you know a 3yo can do the pommel horse, and rings, and high bar (all with assistance, of course)? When I did gymnastics camp in the 2nd grade, we only did floor, vault and beam.

Colt in the swing at gymnastics

So this sounds all find and dandy, right? Last week, I almost broke down in tears watching him. Not from pride or that sentimental “oh-he’s-getting-so-big” crap that frequently pops up. The tears were threatening to spill because I wondered if this gymnastics thing was a big mistake.

Colt is very spirited and independent. Sometimes, he has trouble focusing. This often comes out in gymnastics, when his coaches are asking him to do specific tasks and he just wants to screw around with the other little boys in his group. Last class, I watched the coach put him in a sort of timeout: a few feet away from the other boys, facing away, because he wouldn’t stop messing around while waiting his turn. I think it was the right thing to do (hell, I’d probably do the same), but it still broke my heart to see my boy singled out. When the same thing kept happening at every station, that’s when the doubt started to creep in.

Then I wondered if maybe these feelings were highlighting my own personality or parenting shortcomings.

I try not to be pushy with Colt. I want him to enjoy his activities and not feel like he has to succeed in order to be loved. But there is a part of me that wants him to be the best. I think it’s natural for every parent to have that feeling. With me, I also know I’m very competitive. I was an overachiever growing up and felt like my worth was dependent on how well I did in school, sports, etc. When I got my first B ever in high school, I felt like a complete failure. In sports, I was always second best, the 6th man, the first sub – never the starter, the star. It made me feel less-than, even though I was always on the varsity team and contributed greatly. I just never felt good enough.

I don’t blame my parents for this. They applauded my achievements and encouraged me to do well, but never tied their love to how well I did. I’ve read that feelings like mine are often seen in children of alcoholics, so I’m guessing I developed them as a coping strategy to my dad’s drinking.

I don’t ever want my son to feel that he has to be perfect to be loved. I also don’t want him to miss out on learning opportunities just because I’m afraid he’ll fail, or be laughed at, or feel inadequate. I think it’s important for him to experience these things, so he can learn healthy coping strategies now that will serve him well as he gets older.

There is proof that the gymnastics thing was more about me than Colt. At the end of class, I was waiting for the coach to come over and tell me that Colt was not getting his sucker today because he didn’t listen (this has happened before). Instead, I watched her put her arm around his shoulders and say, “Good job listening today, Colt.” From a distance, I only saw the negative, but up close she saw improvement. When he ran over to me, beaming and saying happily, “I did listen today,” I swallowed the lecture about listening to his coaches, hugged him and simply said, “I’m so proud of you. Thank you for listening to your coaches.” Apparently, Colt isn’t the only one who is learning from gymnastics.

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