A co-worker of mine, who is in his 50’s, just ran a half marathon. I have known him for over 10 years and I know this was not a personal best time, but needless to say, I still congratulated him. He went on to say that his performance was pitiful and that his 21-year-old son is bearing down on him and he hopes to be able to beat him at a big race in January.
What! I was appalled. First of all, you ran a half marathon in under 2 hours, hardly pitiful and second, how can you want to beat your kid? Isn’t the main point of having kids so they can be better us?
Maybe it is because I am a mother or not a competitive person in general, but I feel like our children need cheerleaders not rivals. Kids have enough of people trying to beat them, they don’t need their parents as well. Parents are “old” to our kids, and not on the same playing field, and beating them would bring down their self-esteem. Kids need to feel supported by us, not challenged.
My kids are all very competitive by nature. They all are excellent swimmers, but they still lose. It is hard on them. They have goals and when they don’t reach them or swim their best, they get down on themselves. But what I always say to them and it instantly brings up their mood is “I am your biggest fan.” That tells them that whether they win or lose, I am fully engaged and supporting them. That I will not turn from them after a bad performance. I will be with them whatever happens. But this is not a lie, I AM their biggest fan. I am their mother, and I want to bring them up feeling good and loved, despite failures.
Even though it may be in some parents nature to be competitive with their kids, it can be very damaging. Kids can feel like they don’t measure up, are failures, and unworthy. These feelings can lead to disengagement and depression. Which down the road can lead to serious mental health issues. I see depressed and suicidal kids all the time at work and one of the reasons for this is because of lack of parental support and love. Sometimes it is because the parents are just not around, like with substance abuse issues, lack of involvement, or incarceration. Regardless, these kids have no cheerleaders. They feel like no one cares about them and therefore they don’t mater.
Even if you kid loves to do something, like play the oboe, and you hate music, you still must be their biggest fan. It is their passion, not yours. Kids need freedom to develop their talents, not forced into doing something they don’t like. That also can damage their self-image because we are dismissive to their talents.
The danger with being our kids cheerleaders is we must not over inflate them. By telling them they are the best, there are untouchable, that the other kids are terrible, ect. In our home we let our kids know very early on that they are not the most important thing in his world and that they are the way they are because God made them that way. They have to want it for themselves. Hard work and dedication makes you better, but God deserves all the glory. We let them know that winning is not everything but having good sportsmanship is. We don’t bribe our kids either. Some parents offer phones, money, clothes and trips. We offer the ability to sleep in a warm bed and have food. Motivation must come from within.
If you as a parent gets excited to win at your kids expense, you need to check your own insecurities. Maybe your childhood was not ideal and you have issues you need to work out. Maybe your ego is too big. Reality check, YOU ARE NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THIS WORLD EITHER. Having kinds means putting someone else’s wellbeing in front of yours. Giving them unconditional support during their successes and failures. So be your kids biggest fan. The esteem will stay with them their entire life.