With Our Kids’ Activities, When Is Enough, Enough?

 

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My young swimmers.

 

One of the many struggles of raising kids has to do with their extracurricular activities. What should we sign them up for and how much should they do?

The first thing we signed our kids up for was swimming. In fact, we started with a “mommy and me” class at our city pool when they were six months old. From there we went on to private swim lessons. The reason for our focus on the pool was water safety. We live in an area where most homes and all apartments and condos have pools, including our home. Young children die every year where we live and I was doing all I could to make sure my kids would not be included in those numbers.

While at the pool, we noticed older kids swimming laps with the Piranha Swim Team. We were impressed with their technique and the exciting energy of the team when they were on deck. We asked our children’s instructor if she thought our kids could ever make the team. When our son was six or seven years old, our instructor said he was ready. By that time we were taking him to piano lessons once a week, Boy Scouts, Karate, Tennis and had already dropped Tee Ball. Doesn’t that sound like a ridiculous amount of activities for one wee kid?

I remember racing from school to one activity followed by another. Realizing I forgot something, I erratically made a U-turn and hit a curb. I was shaking as I called Triple A to change my flat tire. Something had to change. This was not a healthy way to live.

We let go of Boy Scouts and Karate. We stuck with piano lessons and swimming. My son continued with tennis for a few years and in middle school tried basketball at his school, plus school plays.

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My daughter in royal blue.

 

I enrolled my daughter in ballet because that was my passion. Piano too, because it is supposed to do so much for mathematics and the brain. She wanted to swim, not be a ballerina. And she hated piano with a passion. She throws it out from time to time, how I forced her to take piano years beyond what was reasonable. It took both her ballet and piano teacher to suggest that enough was enough!

I wrote a story this week for SwimSwam.com with five tips for when your child wants to miss practice. There are so many things I’ve learned through the years. I wish I could go back and let my son know that he didn’t have to go to swim meets or practice and his love of music was just as important. I’d ask him if he wanted to quit, but he’d always say, “No, I love swimming.” He did, but he had interests that he was more passionate about and he didn’t want to disappoint us, because we’d invested so much of our family time around the pool and team. He wanted to be in Junior Statesmen of America. Plus, he started a band was writing music and performing around the area. We tried to make room for everything, but it was a struggle. Also, if I could get a redo, I’d have let my daughter quit piano early on. Why go through daily battles of practice and dragging your kids to an activity they don’t enjoy?

My advice looking back is to expose them to a number of activities and let them find their passion. Then support them wholeheartedly in whatever they choose. Also, don’t overschedule them. Allow them downtime to dream, reflect, play and be kids.

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A duet at the annual piano recital.

 

What advice do you have when choosing activities for your kids?

 

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Stirring the pot without trying

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An article I wrote yesterday, which I viewed as non-controversial, got some people stirred up. I wonder if people actually read my words, or if my writing was so far off that I failed to get my intended message to readers.

In any case, I guess it’s good to get comments, although several took me by surprise. I tried to express that we as parents are all different. In my early years as a swim parent and board member, I had expected everyone to be as enthusiastic as I was about being a swim parent and our team. Obviously, there are all sorts of parents and flavors and degrees of interest kids and families have. A few comments I heard from other swim parents years ago took me by surprise. I hadn’t realized how these friends viewed swimming much differently than me.

Throughout the years, we’ve had several head coaches. Some relied heavily on parents involvement and others liked to handle things without parents chipping in. Neither approach is right or wrong. And as parents, we had to figure out what level of our involvement was desired. As the kids got older, we helped out less and less. Yes, we fulfilled our obligations but being a board member or running swim meets no longer was required or desired. We weren’t on deck for every practice anymore but went for long walks during the kids’ practices. Talking to my son, he said he liked it when we were involved. That made me feel appreciated and good about the years we volunteered.

In any case, it was a pleasure and joy to be a swim parent, through the ups and downs. I don’t regret any days of it. I developed so many great friendships that will continue long after our swim parenting days are over.

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My daughter, best swim buddy and early coach.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to the article that stirred up so many comments: The Swim Parents I Couldn’t Understand. I’d like to get your feedback on it. too.

What My Kids Learned While Staying Wet

Palm Springs Pool

This was one of my first blog posts. This is also one of the pieces that I wrote about how positive swimming has been for me, my husband and kids. I hope you enjoy it!

One of the most important things they learned is perseverance. That stick-with-it never give up attitude that is ingrained in their brains after years of trying for swim goals and just missing them. Then trying and trying again and again until they make them. The very nature of swimming 50 weeks a year, six days a week, makes kids tough.

I’ll never forget my daughter’s frustration of missing her junior national cut by fractions of a second for two years. She didn’t give up. She worked hard. She would still miss.

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“Are you kidding me!” She said looking at the scoreboard to see her missing the coveted junior national cut by mere tenths of a second after dropping three full seconds on an 800-meter freestyle race.

The next race, she said, “I’m so done with this!”  She dove in with more determination than ever, and yes, she made her cut, dropping seconds on her 200-meter free and coming in second place to one of the fastest girls in the country.

So, what does all this have to do with life?  Take her hardest class, AP Stats.  She knows that she can do it. She just has to put in the work and time. That may mean getting up and into the classroom at 6 a.m. for extra help, rather than staying warm tucked into her bed. But, she does it — all on her own — without me suggesting it. Her teacher told me, “I know that she will do whatever it takes to be successful, so I am not worried about where her grade is today.”

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My son also swam. He worked so hard for every goal, trying to qualify for meets through ten years of year-round swimming. I’ll never forget his determination as an 8th grader. I was a chaperone for his Washington DC trip with his class. He knew he’d be missing too much swimming, so he would run up and down through the Mall, up and down the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, while everyone else strolled. At night in the hotel, he ran the gray cement staircases, up and down the five flights.

When he returned to the pool, he did it! He made his first Junior Olympic time.

Now he’s in college and he knows how to persevere. He wanted to work at the campus radio station. He put in his application as a freshman and was declined. As a junior he has been assigned a time slot on the FM station, moving up from his prior show on the AM.

You can listen to his show on kcsb here Fridays at 4 a.m. PST.

He wanted to be in the College of Creative Studies, “a graduate school for undergraduates.” He applied and was devastated when he was declined. I told him to move on, it was okay, get a ‘normal’ degree. But, he didn’t give up. The next year he applied again and was accepted. Learn more about the UCSB CCS program here. Just click.

I’ve had friends ask why my kids spend so much time in the pool, aren’t they missing out?

I beg to differ.  Spending most of their lives in the water has served them well. Being mostly wet has given them skills for life.

Find a local swim club here on the USA Swimming website.

 

 

Photo credits: The Palm Springs, CA Pool — one of the most beautiful views while swimming ever. My daughter diving wearing the yellow cap. Yellow-capped swimmers sometime at some club meet. And a great meme for a distance swimmer.

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Reflections About My First Masters Swim Meet

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Yes, that’s me–diving off the blocks! Two teammates are in yellow caps.

My first swim meet was two years ago this week. I found this story I wrote about the experience and have reposted it. Last year, I signed up for our Piranha Masters meet and during the meet, a truck hit an electrical pole on the block where our city pool is located and the power went out. Right before my heat, the meet was canceled due to the pool pump being out. I had waited patiently with butterflies in my stomach for my turn to swim. 

I wrote about it for Swimswam here. I wrote about how nervous I was in my prior blog–which was before the meet. So, what else do I have to say about the meet? Here’re a few more details and photos.

I loved the people. I especially enjoyed talking with an 18-year-old from Mission Viejo Nadadores who said it was her first Masters meet, too. I asked her if she had been an age group swimmer.

Her answer, “What’s that?”

I asked if she had swam for Nadadores as a child. “No, I started swimming as a sophomore in high school.”

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The home town pool the morning of the meet.

She was a new swimmer, like I was—although we were definitely in different age groups! She did very well and won her events. I won a blue ribbon for my relay—in the mixed 45 and older medley. I think we were the only relay in that age group and event. 

I loved cheering for and watching my teammates compete. I have a great group of friends and coach on the team. We’re all supportive of each other. The officials are great, too! Honestly, is there a better community than the swim world?

I had fun cheering for two swim moms in particular—our kids swam and went to school together for years. It was a first swim meet experience for all three of us–as swimmers. Both of these swim moms want to continue to compete and get faster. Honestly, I’m content that I survived the experience.

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Me and one of my swim mom now US Masters friends.

Sadly, I look nothing like my daughter, who is in the video below, lane one. I can’t believe how slow I look watching the video of my 50 free. Or how my stroke doesn’t look anything like I thought. While swimming, I visualize my daughter’s stroke in my mind.

I was definitely out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing. If you’re interested in swimming, I strongly suggest you find a US Masters group and dive in. You don’t have to compete, and I guarantee you’ll get in shape, get tired, sleep well–and make great friends.

What have you done to get off the blocks and out of your comfort zone?

About that unsolicited advice…

 

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Views from our local park. Oh and yeah. It’s December!

 

 

Walking around our park last night, a little puppy snuck up behind me and licked my leg! I was startled and watched as the puppy tore across the park with the owner, a young woman, trying to catch the pup. The puppy then raced back to where the owner’s boyfriend was and I watched the guy throw himself on the ground trying to capture the quick puppy.

I told the woman she should put her puppy on a leash and he’d be easier to catch. She was a little defensive and said that it was her boyfriend that took off the leash and she’d prefer to keep the puppy safe from running into the streets or getting away if it was up to her.

“We let our puppy run free with the leash attached, so I can stop him by stepping on the leash,” I explained. “He’s easier to catch that way.”

“Thanks, that’s a great idea,” she said with a smile.

But, then I thought, was any of that my business? What is it with the need to give unsolicited advice? Maybe I’m just a busybody and give my two cents worth where it doesn’t belong. I’ve been reading numerous articles about how everyone these days is giving unsolicited parenting advice. And most of it isn’t welcome. It’s kind of ironic considering I write weekly parenting advice articles for SwimSwam.com.

Here’s an excerpt from an “unsolicited parenting advice” article that’s interesting:

“No, I don’t want your unsolicited parenting advice” by Carla Naumburg

“Have you tried cooking with her?”

“This is the question I usually get whenever I describe my eight-year-old daughter’s selective eating.

“For years I’ve responded to such unsolicited advice by describing all of the different tricks and tactics I’ve tried, including, yes, cooking with her. Halfway through yet another conversation last week about her food habits, I suddenly realized something.

“I was being momsplained.

“We are all now familiar with the term mansplaining, in which a man tells another person (usually a woman) how to improve a situation or solve a problem, regardless of whether he has any idea what he’s talking about, or even a decent grasp of the entire situation. Well-intentioned or not, it’s rarely helpful.

“We moms do it to each other all the time, too.

Here’s how it usually goes down. You bemoan your latest parenting challenge—perhaps your child isn’t sleeping or refuses to practice piano, or maybe you’re at the end of your rope with the constant meltdowns or mouthing off. Inevitably, another mom jumps in with a story about How She Solved the Problem. She then dives into the details of the star chart, parenting guru, or Pinterest-worthy solution that had her kid on time for school, every single morning.

“Momsplaining happens on the playgrounds and soccer fields, in Mommy and Me classes, and anywhere moms congregate and chat between sips of coffee. I’ve been momsplained so frequently in response to my online parenting rants—when I’m really looking for empathy—that I now either come to expect it or I explicitly note that I’m not asking for advice. I almost always receive a litany of suggestions anyway, most of which I’ve already tried or aren’t relevant.”

In a dad’s perspective, Clint Edwards writes “6 Pieces of Unwanted Parenting Advice And How I’d Like To Respond.” It’s well worth reading and here are two of his responses:

My wife and I have three kids (6 months, 5 and 7). People regularly give me unsolicited advice on parenting, both in person and online. And you know what, I get it. You think you’ve figured something out and you want to share your great revelation. Or perhaps you don’t have kids, so that makes you an outside observer with a fresh prospective. But really… I’d rather you just shut the hell up. Below are a few examples of unsolicited advice I’ve been given and how I would like to respond… if I wasn’t such a nice guy.

1. Shouldn’t he be wearing a jacket? Yup, he probably should be wearing a jacket. And you know what, I don’t know when he last changed his underwear or socks, either. But here’s the deal. I told him to put on a jacket, but he’s seven and he listens about as good as a goldfish. Once an evening I wrestle him into the bathtub. I don’t have energy for much more, so I’m letting him figure out a few things the hard way, through goose bumps and rashes. Can you live with that? Because I can.

6. Keeping your children from throwing fits in public begins in the home. I’m going to assume that when you raised children it was socially okay to beat them. Because here is the thing, I work really hard to teach my kids how to act appropriately in public. But then we get out there, and they turn into screaming, needing, wanting, maniacs. It’s like showing a werewolf the moon. And honestly, most of the time they are fine. Most of the time they are sweet and wonderful. So please realize that the fit you witnessed is not the norm. But what I can say is taking my kids out into public, telling them no, letting them throw a fit, and then telling them no again, really is the only way they are going to figure out how to be a quiet and reserved person. You know… an understanding person. The kind of person who doesn’t give unsolicited advice in a grocery store.

This one really cracked me up: “Totally Appropriate Responses to Unsolicited Parenting Advice” By Marissa Maciel.

Actually, this is my twelfth child.

Oh, I’m not her mother; I just walk her and make sure she poops, then take her home.

She has to fly on the plane with us, sorry. It’s in her contract.

Listen, I’ve read the books, subscribed to the newsletters, and bought the recommended sippy cup. Come back when you’re president of my kid’s Montessori co-op.

Her doctor said that thumb-sucking is the e-cigarette for babies weaning off of the breast, so we’re fine with it.

You know, I tried that once and the very next day some blogger wrote a hot take about it — no thanks.

We did consider leaving her at home instead of bringing her to the restaurant, but the last time we did that she locked us out and ordered thirty pizzas on my credit card. BABIES, right??

Yes, we tried feeding her. The crying didn’t stop and we also forgot to make a sign that said “we already tried feeding her.” Thanks, though.

Actually, this is my twentieth child.

 

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The park where I was startled by a friendly pup.

What are your thoughts about unsolicited advice—whether it’s for children or puppies?

 

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate: sports stars share their stories

 

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Missy Franklin with the freshman Lady Utes at PAC 12s 2015.

In a sports conference for young women called LEAD Summit held in Austin, TX, Missy Franklin opened up about her struggles with mental illness. For those who don’t follow the Olympics, Missy is a five-time gold medalist and swimming superstar. At the summit, she was asked to talk about perseverance.

She said her favorite definition for perseverance was “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” In a “Gold Medal Minute” video produced by Mel Stewart, two-time gold medalist and founder of SwimSwam.com, he interviewed Missy. I urge you to take the time to listen to what Missy has to say and the journey she shares. As Stewart described it, “Missy went deep sharing some raw and personal history. Two months before the Olympic Trials last year, Missy was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, insomnia and an eating disorder when she was hitting a low while sports fans and the world were expecting her to rise up.”

Watch “MISSY FRANKLIN BATTLES BACK FROM DEPRESSION: GMM PRESENTED BY SWIMOUTLET.COM” here.

Missy explains how her definition of perseverance has changed from 2012, 2013, and 2014 when she said it was “shallow.” She thought perseverance was coming out at the other end successful and that at that time in her life “everything came with so much ease.”

She has some poignant words about success and what it means to her. “Your Definition of success is going to change and you need to let it,” Missy said. “That is the only definition that matters because you’re constantly going to have people in your life telling you what it means to be successful. And that is different for every single person. If you’re not striving for your own version of success, you’re never going to be happy or fulfilled.”

To find out more about LEAD Summit visit their website. “Founded in 2017 by 3-time Olympian Kara Lynn Joyce, the LEAD (Leadership, Empowerment, & Athletic Development) Sports Summit provides teenage female swimmers ages, 13-18, the opportunity to learn leadership and communication skills from an accomplished group of female Olympians and mentors over the course of a three-day summit.”

In an article from the Salt Lake Tribune called, “There’s always help’: Whittingham’s son praised for going public about his depression,” the head coach of the University of Utah football team Kyle Whittingham talks about how proud he is of his son, who plays football for the Utes. Here are a few excerpts.

“There were years of pain and anguish as he (Alex Whittingham) dealt with the effects of anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). “Fighting through a storm cloud” is how he described it. And that cloud was on the 24-year-old’s mind this summer when he opened up an application on his iPhone and decided to open up to the world.Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 1.22.16 PM

“Kyle Whittingham’s son is many things. He is a goofball around his friends and teammates. He is a drummer in a rock band. He is a self-proclaimed Beatles trivia expert. But he is generally not a public person, so his decision to share his story took his father aback.

“ ‘That was a little out of character for him,’ Kyle Whittingham said. ‘He’s a fairly private person, and that did surprise me. It caught me a little bit off guard when he did that, but, like I said, he has very strong convictions, and obviously, that was something he felt like he needed to do.’

“The choice made the father proud.

“Kyle calls them ‘hard times’ for the Whittingham family. The moments when a parent is helpless and can’t provide the absolute most for his or her child are the ones that don’t ever disappear.

“ ‘As a parent, you’re only as happy as your most unhappy child,’ Whittingham said. ‘That old adage is very true. You go through it right there with him. You feel the pain. It’s hard, it’s frustrating.’ ”

In USA Today, an article called “When athletes share their battles with mental illness” written by Scott Gleeson and Erik Brady, they interview eight sports stars including Jerry West, Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt.

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Michael Phelps with local high school swimmers at a banquet where he was the keynote speaker.

 

“ROUGHLY ONE IN FIVE AMERICAN ADULTS SUFFER FROM MENTAL ILLNESSES. ATHLETES MIGHT BE MORE AT RISK. HERE, EIGHT OF THEM TELL THEIR AUTHENTIC STORIES.”

“Michael Phelps locked himself in his bedroom for four days three years ago. He’d been arrested a second time for DUI. He was despondent and adrift. He thought about suicide.

“I didn’t want to be alive,” he tells USA TODAY Sports. “I didn’t want to see anyone else. I didn’t want to see another day.”

“Family and friends — “a life-saving support group,” Phelps calls them — urged him to seek professional help. He got it. And now he wants others who are suffering from mental health issues to find the help they need.

“Some will scoff at this. Phelps is the golden boy of the Olympic Games. Fame and fortune are his. Really, what could be so bad in his life?

“That is never the right question. People from all walks of life suffer from a range of mental illnesses. Roughly 44 million Americans experienced some form of mental illness in 2015 (the most recent year for which numbers are available), according to estimates by the National Institute of Mental Health. That’s nearly one in five people aged 18 or over.”

After reading and listening to the stories of these athletes, I wondered if athletics is somehow connected to mental illness. According to the article in USA Today it is.

“Athletes may be at increased risk, according to research by Lynette Hughes and Gerard Leavey of the Northern Ireland Association of Mental Health, who found that factors such as injuries, competitive failure and overtraining can lead to psychological distress. An NCAA survey of athletes found over the course of a year that 30% reported feeling depressed while half said they experienced high levels of anxiety.

“Brent Walker, associate athletic director for championship performance at Columbia University, says he didn’t want to deal with the mental health side of performance when he began working in the field. Now, he says, “it is difficult to separate the mental health piece from the performance side of it.”

In my own family, we have struggled with mental illness, including my mother and several other family members. One of the concerns with mental illness is to alleviate stigma. People may not reach out for needed help because they’re afraid of what people will think of them. I am so moved by reading the stories of young and old athletes alike who are in the public eye and sharing their stories. They may not know it, but they are helping and touching someone. We need to understand that depression is not something that a person “can snap out of” and it’s not caused by being weak.

What are your thoughts of these athletes making their struggles with mental illness public?

 

 

 

 

How to find balance in parenting—surf or swim!

 

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My swimmer daughter trying surfing.

I enjoyed reading a story about “surf parenting” as an alternative to helicopter parenting written by Amy Preiser. In her article, “Forget Helicopter Parenting — I’m ‘Surf Parenting’ From Now On,” she said:

 

“Gather ’round and listen to the tale of how I, your average working mother with a tendency to over-schedule, over-analyze, and over-stress, changed my life with a single surf lesson. Of how I, a woman constantly seeking balance, found it atop a board. How my cares melted away — but what was important become crystal clear — as I rode atop a ferocious wave, hair glimmering, smile broadening, feet angled just so. I knew all my problems were solved. I would never again procrastinate or fall victim to guilt. I would be a more present mother yet a more creative and focused worker. My friendships would improve. So would the whiteness of my teeth! I would start referring to a handful of almonds as a “great snack.”

Yeah, that was not how it went. (Did you already guess?)”

I’m big on getting out of your comfort zone to try new things. I’m impressed she took on surfing, which is a little too much out of my comfort zone—and will never try. I also liked her article because I was writing about finding balance as a swim parent today for SwimSwam.com. Swimming requires balance in the water, kids need to balance their academics, social life and sport—and parents and families need to find balance with all the demands of being a busy swim parent.

Another thing I liked about her story was the surf instructor was an ambassador for Sanuk, a flip-flop manufacturer that I adore. I have worn Sanuk sandals with soles made from yoga mats for years and years. I absolutely love them for their comfortable, sinking in feeling. They remind me of two decades of summers in Laguna with the kids–where I bought my first pair of Sanuk flip-flops.

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Me and my college roomie discovered we had good taste–Sanuk sandals.

 

My leap out of my comfort zone came through swimming, of course. Signing up for Masters with the Piranha Swim Team—my kids’ team for 15 years—was tough. I procrastinated and thought about it for four months before finally showing up on deck. Then, the following year, I signed up for a meet and just about died of fear learning to dive off the blocks let alone race in the meet! Then this past spring, I swam at my first (and only?) US Masters Nationals meet. I came in last in my age group, but seriously, it was about the experience–not winning medals. I’m thankful to have made it through the day with all the anxiety and stress I felt.

Practice at the city pool is my zen space. I practice my balance in the pool, standing on the blocks, and making time for myself in my busy day to get outside and exercise.

It’s all about finding balance.

How do you find balance in your life?

 

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That’s me diving off the blocks at my first meet.