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.

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When Should Kids Specialize in Sports?

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Here’s an article I wrote several years ago about sports specialization. I still get asked at what age should kids do one sport exclusively. There’s no right or wrong answer, although research suggests that there’s no advantage to early sports specialization.

There’s been a few conversations on the pool deck about when and if kids should swim exclusively. It’s a fact that our country’s sports have changed dramatically since we were kids. Sports were mostly free and school-based. Plus, kids didn’t do just one sport, but many.

Today, there’s a trend around the world for kids to specialize at an early age in one sport. If you “google” sports specialization, you’ll find tons of articles with research telling you why this is such an awful thing.

The drawbacks, according to research, come down to several things:
social isolation, burn-out and repetitive use injuries. Also, the research cited states there’s no clear advantage to starting in a single sport, year-round at an early age.

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As the parent of two swimmers, I’ve sat on the pool deck for close to 15 years. My son started swimming at age 7, my daughter at 5. They began with a number of other activities, but loved swimming more. Their specialization was self-directed, not parent-coerced. They soon grew weary of rushing from practice to practice, or as I remember it, “If this is Tuesday it must be Karate.”
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I have an opinion on sports specialization that relies on mom-based research — observing, listening and talking to hundreds of kids, parents, and dozens of coaches for years — however, it’s limited to the sport of swimming.

First, I have to disagree with this statement: “Being on a select team often requires a year-round or near year-round commitment and extensive travel. If you allow your child to participate she can end up socially isolated from her family, peers, and the larger community.[3]” from momsteam.

Isolation? Not hardly.

The swim team for my kids was social. Friendships blossomed with kids they’d otherwise never meet. Vacations through the years meant jumping in as a visitor with local teams and meeting more kids. At first my children were wary and out of their comfort zone, but their self-confidence and world grew exponentially.

Swim meets meant playing cards, “Catchphrase” and charades for hours under the tent with teammates — and racing for a minute or two. My daughter didn’t have time to hang out at the mall, but she did travel to Puerto Vallarta with kids from throughout So Cal to meet up with kids from the Pacific Northwest, Northern California, Mexico and Canada.

The coaches from the Puerto Vallarta trip witnessed an eye-opening swim meet for our swimmers. Our kids experienced another culture, interacted with local kids, and learned to appreciate small things they took for granted in Southern California.

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I’d love to hear what you have to say about this topic, too! When did your kids begin organized sports? Did they participate in more than one? At what age did they specialize?

 

About Those New Year’s Resolutions…

 

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How can I be a better parent to these two this year?

January is a great time to think about how we can be better—whether it’s nutrition, working out, cleaning closets, quitting bad habits, or getting more work done. It’s also an ideal time to reflect on what’s working and what’s not. I try to set realistic goals for the New Year and not something too huge or unrealistic. It amazes me how the time flies by and stuff I was sure to get done by summer managed to get by me—again!

I ran into a slew of parenting tips to start the New Year. If you browse through daily newspapers and blogs, all sorts of parents will tell you how to be a better parent in 2018. In The Herald-Tribune from Florida, two moms with nine kids between them, Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman, wrote “PARENTING: The goal of the elementary years is independence.” Although their article focuses on the elementary years, it’s something I can still work on with my kids. They are in transition points in their life, becoming adults. Independence is something they crave, yet they still want to be pampered and taken care of by mom and dad. Here’s some of the advice from Jenni and Jody:

 

“Most people embrace the idea of goal setting just before the new year, especially when it comes to personal, professional and financial growth. But how about setting goals for our children’s growth?

If you have an elementary aged child, this is the perfect time to set some goals for your child’s independence.

For starters, the elementary years are the training ground for learning to take care of themselves and their things. It’s the season when they develop habits of brushing their teeth, washing their hands, making their beds and keeping their space clean and organized.

Life is busy and often it’s easier to pick up the toys or do the dishes ourselves. But if we start the new year with the goal of helping our kids become independent, it can prevent us from doing things for our children that they should be learning to do for themselves.

This means taking the time to carefully teach them these skills and then coach them along as they become more and more proficient. In the end, it will save time as we nurture and cultivate independent kids who can take care of themselves and contribute to the household.

The elementary years are also the time to begin teaching our kids to become academically independent, to take responsibility for their education. It starts by giving them systems and tools that will help them become more mature students.

For example, we can create a checklist for our kids and then help them end each day by cleaning out their backpacks, making sure they have everything they need for the next day and writing down questions to ask their teachers about things they didn’t understand in their homework.

We can also set goals during the elementary years to help our kids learn to advocate for themselves. Of course we always want our children to know they are supported and that, in their homes, they are part of a family (a community) that operates as a team, where everyone is loyal to one another and committed to each other’s success. But that doesn’t mean that we fight our kids’ battles for them. No, our job is to help our kids become independent and learn to effectively stand up for themselves.”

I read “8 resolutions for better parenting in the New Year” By David G. Allan on CNN’s website. He had some good practical advice that starts with being in the moment. I get admonished by my daughter for not paying attention. It’s usually because of my iPhone. I confess that I get busy looking at texts or emails. My son will text me while I’m with my daughter, and she’ll say “I’m here with you now!” A good goal for me in 2018 is to put my phone down! It reminds me of a video by “Smog and Fog” called “Put Your Phone Down.” 

Here are the first three tips out of eight from Allan:

“If you’re looking to improve your parenting, you’re not alone. In my opinion, it’s an essential area of course correction, up there with weight loss, better eating and better spending, arguably more essential.

What’s beautiful about parenting resolutions is that your kids benefit too, and likely your spouse and any potential future grandkids. You get a lot of bang for your resolution buck.
As with any resolution, honestly examine areas where you feel you could be doing better or want to improve. Below are eight parenting resolution thought-starters in categories we all probably need to give more attention in the coming year.

Being there
There’s a lot of talk, many articles and a long shelf of books on mindful parenting. But it all boils down to this: When you’re with your kids, give them full, curious and happy attention.

Be more laissez-faire about some things
You may be burdening yourself with milestones and cultural expectations that really don’t matter if you pause to think about them. Here are some developmental achievements you don’t really need to waste time, energy and anxiety pushing. Rest assured these will almost always work themselves out in due time.

Don’t drive under the influence of your phone
Here comes your PSA: More than 40,000 people died on US roads in 2016, according to National Safety Council estimates. Many roadway fatalities involve drunken driving, speeding and not wearing seat belts (so don’t do any of those things, clearly), but increasingly, accidents are being caused by people texting or talking while driving.

DWD: Driving While Distracted
Fifty-one percent of teens reported seeing their parents checking and/or using their mobile devices while driving, according to a Common Sense Media poll last year. And when you repeatedly model a behavior in front of your kids, that’s called teaching.”

 

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Me and my son in San Francisco.

What are your goals for the New Year? Did you make a list of New Year’s Resolutions?

 

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?

 

One Tip for Parents: Don’t Speak

 

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My daughter swimming on her own during vacation.

I read a great article, “The first rule of sports (and all) parenting: Don’t speak,” in the Washington Post by Nancy Star:

 

Your child doesn’t have to play in the Super Bowl for you to know the feeling. Their team was supposed to win and then they didn’t. What do you do? Being the mother of two girls who played soccer and ran track, I thought I knew the answer: Talk it through. Tell them you love them. Say it’s just a game. Remind them there’s always a next time. Isn’t that what good parenting is all about? Keeping channels of communication open even in tough moments?

Turns out the answer is no. I learned this when I had a “don’t speak” moment.

I understand this all too well. After my kids would have a disappointing swim, I’d try to reassure them. I wanted to take away their hurt and make them feel better. Most often after I’d say, “That wasn’t so bad,” or “You have another swim ahead,” I’d be met with negativity and a statement like “I sucked!”

I’d get a barrage of negativity that would take me by surprise. I never figured out that I wasn’t making it better for my kids, but was making them feel worse. They weren’t ready to talk about a bad swim with me and “hash and rehash,” as my daughter would say. I read in a David Benzel sports parenting book, “From Chump to Champ,” that we should wait for our kids to talk to us. We need to be there and listen. But, if we start the conversation first, even with the best intentions, they’ll probably pull away and stay quiet. They want to please us so much and may take any little thing we say personally, as though they’ve let us down. It’s best to be quiet and listen. They may surprise us and open up more than ever if we let them take the lead.

Here’s more from the Washington Post article with the mom watching her daughter’s varsity soccer team lose their final meet. She received advice from a dad, Peter, who had more experience with soccer parenting and she followed it.

“Their lead slipped to a tie toward the end of the second half. In the last minute of play there was a stumble, scrambling and a goal for the other team.

Parents supplied transportation for home games, so we waited while our daughters gave sullen high-fives to the winners and then huddled with their coach, listening as he shared his disappointment. When he was done they separated and, backpacks slung over shoulders, trudged across the field toward where we stood.

Watching their grim faces approach I wished a meteorologist were present to confirm my suspicion that 22 high school girls who’ve just lost a chance at a state title can change the atmosphere, collectively sucking the light out of the sky. Their fury was frightening.

But Peter had been through this before. “Don’t speak,” he said. As I started to turn my head he added, “Don’t look. Just walk. Go to your car. She’ll find you.”

I tried not to move my lips as I objected. “All I want to say is I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” he advised. “Don’t speak. Not until she talks to you.”

Because he had been through this before, I listened and walked to my car alone. I felt her before I saw her, walking silently beside me. Reassuring phrases immediately formed in my brain but, channeling Peter, I said nothing.

A moment later I noticed her teammates walking with their parents, mothers mostly, who offered words of consolation. “Are you okay?” and “You played well,” and “There’s always next time.” To me the words sounded gentle and kind.

The girls did not agree. “No,” they snapped, and “I sucked,” and “There won’t be a next time.”

By the time we reached the car, every daughter except mine was crying and the moms were, understandably, annoyed and lashing back. “Why are you yelling at me?” and “Being upset is no excuse for being rude.”

We were silent on the ride home, silent as I turned on to our street. It was when I pulled into the driveway that my daughter finally spoke. “That was such a bad game.”

I nodded.”

How do you handle your children’s athletic or academic disappointment?

 

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Cheering on a teammate at the PAC 12 Champs.

 

 

One Tip to Raise Your Kids to Become Independent Adults

 

18 years ago.

My daughter at a few months old.

I dream that my kids grow up to be successful in their chosen careers. I want them to have long-lasting relationships with the special person they love. I want them to have families and homes and lives they enjoy and are proud to lead. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

It’s up to us to teach our kids the skills they need to take on this enormous task called life. We want our kids to grow up ready to take on life’s challenges. I read an article today with a great tip—teach your kids to problem solve.

In “Here Are The Keys To Raising Problem-Solving Children” Michelle Kinder wrote:

“It’s hard being a kid. It’s harder still being a parent and watching your kids navigate waters that seem a thousand times more complex than when we were growing up. Most of us spend a fair amount of time thinking about how to inoculate our children from some of the shocking difficulties that so many kids seem to face before their 18th birthday.

“Our daughters are 15 and 10 and we have one strategy that continues to go the distance. It’s a Jedi mind trick that requires consistency but no herculean effort. It all hinges on a simple sentence: We are problem solvers.

“We started saying it when my daughters were pre-verbal and they have heard it so many times that it cues the requisite eye-roll a fair amount of the time. We are problem solvers.

“That’s it. Anytime we have any sort of challenge, we say, ‘We are problem solvers.’

“My daughter can’t find her shoes and we’re running late for her game ― ‘I don’t know where your shoes are. But I know we are problem solvers. And we’ve solved way bigger problems ― where should we start?’ “

How are you helping your kids become independent and resourceful?

 

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My daughter today.

 

10 Things Your Kids Need to Know Before They Leave the Nest

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My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.

Here’s story I wrote three years ago, before my youngest child went off to college. If you have school age kids, please read this and give yourself years to get them ready to leave the nest. Doing less for our kids is more.

“He tried college a couple times. It just didn’t take,” a dad of one of my son’s friends told me last night at the grocery store.

Next, I got a call from a close friend, whose happy-go-lucky daughter checked herself into a campus hospital, because she felt so overwhelmed and out of control.

Another friend told me their son quit after one semester after too much partying and not enough studying. Yet another mom left on a rescue mission to help a child in need.

What the heck is going on with our kids and college? My own son struggled to find his way his freshman year.  

All of these parents, myself included, believed college was the best and only choice for their kids.imgres-1

Maybe college isn’t for everyone? Maybe we did too much for them? Maybe we didn’t let them fail often or enough?

I’ll talk more about why kids are struggling in college on another day. And if we have an epidemic on our hands.

But, first, I want to share basic things kids need to know before they leave for college. I was often surprised at questions my son would ask me during his first year at college. I’m going to make sure my second child checks off every item on my “top 10 things kids need to know before going to college” list.

  1. Banking skills. Know how to write a check, make a deposit face-to-face with a teller, fill out a deposit slip, and use an ATM card for deposits and withdrawals. Balancing a check-book falls under the banking list.
  2. Laundry. Have your kids do their own laundry so they know how to sort white and colors, hand-wash, hang dry, and fold–and what it feels like to be out of clean clothes. The clean underwear does not appear by magic! imgres-5
  3. Cooking. Teach your child some basic cooking skills like scrambling eggs, making spaghetti, baking a chicken, steaming vegetables, and cooking rice. 
  4. Grocery shopping. Just like clean underwear, the food in the fridge doesn’t appear out of thin air. Teach how to make a list, look for coupons, find sale items, and learn how to read unit pricing on shelves.imgres-6
  5. How to get to and from the grocery store. This may seem obvious, but I’ll never forget the phone call I got from Robert: “Mom. I’m at Costco and how do I get home with cases of water, yogurt, and Top Ramen on my bike?”  Hmmm. Good question.
  6. Budgeting. If your child hasn’t worked at a job and you provide their basic necessities, they lack budgeting skills. My son got his first paycheck working a summer retail job. The check was for $175. He bought his girlfriend a dress for $110 and spent the rest on dinner for the two of them. Very romantic, but not practical when he needed to eat the next week and month.
  7. Theft. At college, thieves are everywhere. My first week of college, I hand-washed some sweaters and hung them out to dry in the bathroom. Within minutes — gone. I had a bike stolen from my sorority storage room — and a locked bike stolen when I used a restroom during a ride around Green Lake. My son’s laptop was stolen when he left it in a study area in his dorm. Make sure they have “find my laptop” activated and never leave anything unattended! Don’t use a chain or cable lock for your bike — use a solid bar type. 
  8. Professors. They set aside office hours and only one or two students bother to stop by per semester. They are thrilled to help and meet students face-to-face. This can help for future referrals, references, internships — and grades. Have your kid meet with each professor at least once, every semester. It can’t hurt!images-2
  9. Cars. Basic things like checking tire pressure, oil and water levels, changing tires and pumping gas. Maybe they won’t have a car right away, but at some point they will and car maintenance is not an instinct. It’s a learned skill.
  10. Learn to say no! College means hanging out with friends, listening to music, parties, dances, rallies, job opportunities, football games, intramural sports, going out to eat, etc. Studying is priority number one. Learning to say no will help your kid stay focused.

What other essential life skills would you add to the list?