I have discovered this evening I have been contradicting my parenting with this one simple parenting mistake and I hadn’t even realised I was making it.
I haven’t run in years. Literally years! Yet I found myself on the start line for the Mummy race at T’s first sports day. Here, in the obligatory starters pose, on a damp, super slippery playing field, with all eyes on the 8 of us … I realised:
a) I wasn’t as confident in my 4 month post-partum pelvic floor as I probably should be before running in public.
b) nursing bra’s are definitely NOT designed for comfortable (or dignified) running and that it was highly likely that one (if not both) of my breast pads might just make a break for freedom halfway down the track!
Not only did I look a fool trying to hold my boobs down whilst “running” I also came in a very definite last place.
I was prepared for some stick, so was pleasantly surprised by the reaction I received. The look of pride and delight on T’s face when he saw me taking part. Maybe he is too young to be embarrassed by his Mum?! My gorgeous 9 year old Godson patting me conciliatorily and saying “well done” with a cheeky grin … and not one but 4 parents came over and said “fair play” to you for taking part.
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My goal was to set an example for T. He is small for his year group and some of the other kids literally tower over him. Until it comes to skilled sports my boy just doesn’t have the physical size to compete with his peers at running when he has to take 3 strides to their one.
I am more acutely aware of this physical difference because I recently saw an IG post of a child we know – 11 weeks older than T and at least 11 inches taller – proudly sporting not one, but three, 1st place stickers for his sports day races.
The post was captioned “Momma didn’t raise no loser!”
And neither have I.
I don’t want to raise a child who feels he is only valued or worthy based on his achievements. That our love is in any way conditional on his outward accomplishments.
I am now, more than ever, aware that we need to build an inner resilience in T that he hasn’t yet got. He hates when he doesn’t win. He hates when he makes a mistake in writing and will rub it out rather than find a work around. He hates when he isn’t right first time.
I know it’s all part of growing up.
I can’t let him always win. Just like I can’t remove all obstacles for him.
And nor should I.
It’s my responsibility, as a parent, to provide him with the most important life skills:
- To try
- To keep going
- To not give up
- To be inventive
- To be solution focussed
- To be resilient to disappointments
- To take feedback and grow from it; not be offended by it
- To enjoy challenges
- To recognise weakness is a part of strength
- To understand that we are all unique and have a role to play with our varied gifts
- And that it’s the journey to the destination that gives the sense of fulfilment just as much as the achievement of the goal.
I want my kids to grow up mindful of their present blessings and with gratitude. Not purely focussed on the next goal to achieve, the next milestone to pass. To always be striving for something better is great – but also to be mindful of what they have here – in the now.
And I thought I was doing that.
I stumbled across an example of how not to parent – and to my horror I had and was still falling foul of this pitfall.
This insight didn’t come from a parenting book. But from a book about mindset and finding happiness for adults (it’s called THE CHIMP PARADOX and I can HIGHLY recommend it if you haven’t already read it!).
My lightbulb / facepalm moment came when I read about how our sense of self-worth and self-value is built in our early formative years. I realised this is exactly what I do and it’s such a simple mistake to make.
So where was I going wrong?
The book explains that when a child comes out of school clutching a drawing which we coo and gush over and tell them we are so proud. We are actually teaching them it is their accomplishment of which we are proud. Not them in their own right, regardless of achievements.
That the right thing to do is to acknowledge the presence of the offering and say “let’s look at that in a moment”. Then reconnect with them, tell them we love them and we are proud of them and ONLY THEN return to the colourful offering and gush over it to our hearts content. I have paraphrased it pretty poorly here (here’s a link to the book). But you get the gist. I had been delighted and cooed over every offering as soon as it was presented with a gleeful grin. Unwittingly rewarding accomplishment rather than building his self-worth.
Before sports day we had spent time explaining to T the most important part was about taking part. The important thing was to try. That not everyone can win all of the time. That we are proud of him and his effort regardless of the results. Yet here I was undoing all of that by focusing on the wrong thing first at the end of the school day.
Could I not have run at sports day?! Was having his sister recently reason enough not to take part? Will he even remember? Does it matter – really?
I think so – because as much as I hate to run – kids learn by seeing, experiencing, doing, not just by being told.
So will I run next year – sure … will I come last – most probably … will I care – Nope.
Will I continue to coo over the next spaceship invention offered at the school gate? Absolutely – but only once I have focussed on him first.
As with all things parenting the guilt is real but I am consoling myself that some days we get it wrong – some days we get it right – some days we survive – some we thrive. Parenting is a journey – a winding, undulous, sometimes arduous path.
Luckily it also comes with some pretty spectacular views!
And at least this is one parenting mistake that’s easy to fix!
Have you had a fail moment? Or a huge win – smashed it kind of moment? Let’s celebrate the good days and moving on from the not so good!
Love Ali x
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