Helicopter Parents: Hover a Few Feet Higher

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My kiddos jumping in the waves in Laguna Bach, CA.

I received a question from a swim mom the other day about families that team hop. “Why do they often want to destroy the team they left behind?” she wondered. This mom said that if her own family were to make a decision about leaving, they’d do it and not look back. Their decision would be their own and they wouldn’t need to tear down the team or coach. I wrote about that question in an “Ask Swim Mom” story. You can read it here.

I received a text from a swim and dance mom friend who read the story and whose daughter went to college with mine. She said it’s easier for us to see a better way to handle things because our girls are no longer involved. “For these people it’s still very personal and real.”

That’s it. It’s all so personal when your kids are young and you’re involved. I regret many things I did–not only as a swim mom–but as a school parent, too. Every day I didn’t need to put on armor and fight each battle. Some things could have been left alone. I really felt the need to solve each issue, from a parent not fulfilling volunteer commitments on the swim team, to a teacher who wasn’t great at teaching. I wish I would have known that “this too shall pass.” I barely remember what caused me such inner turmoil in younger years with my kids.

Relax, stand back, and enjoy each memory you’re creating with your family. If we could convince newer parents to take a step back and not hover quite so closely, they might be able to enjoy parenting even more. I think it’s okay to helicopter parent, just do it from a higher altitude so you can see the big picture.

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What regrets do you have as a parent or in life? What would you do over if you had a second chance?

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There is a college for everyone

I wrote this article a few years ago and I think it still resonates today. If you’re a swim parent, your kids can swim in college and it will add to their experience most definitely.

My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine a few years ago.

My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine a few years ago.

I read an interesting article today on my favorite website, SwimSwam.  It was written by a college swimmer encouraging high school swimmers to swim in college. It’s very inspirational you can read it here. His story reminded me of my own kids. I wish he was a few years older and could have talked to my son, who also thought he wasn’t fast enough to swim in college.

My son, who is now in is fourth year at college, refused to talk to any swim coaches while we were looking at schools with him. We tried to encourage him, but he didn’t think he was good enough. Or, that he liked swimming enough.

In our opinion, as parents (what do we know anyway, right?) he had a beautiful stroke and he had always loved swimming. It seemed natural to us that he’d want to continue with his favorite sport. We also knew swimming could open doors for him. It couldn’t hurt for him to communicate with swim coaches at some of his dream colleges, right? We had looked at swim times and he would have fit in nicely at a lot of them. No, I’m not talking about Cal or Stanford, which he applied to, but are in the higher echelons of D1 swim teams. His other top schools that are very selective academically had men’s D2 or D3 teams.

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But, no. He did not listen to us. His senior year, he received rejection letters from all of his top schools. It’s really a numbers game and there are millions of talented, smart kids competing for those college spots from not only the USA, but from all over the world. 

He is enjoying the school he landed at. But, it was an adjustment at first. He wasn’t happy being there. He was all alone. Now, in his fourth year, he loves it. He’s swimming again, on his own at the student rec center. He missed swimming.

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In contrast, my daughter who’s a freshman, was recruited for swimming. What a difference her entire college decision process was. She loves her college team. The entire team knocked on her door with goodies for her, while we were moving her in. They had team activities during the first few weeks, like barbecues, and volunteering to hand out balloons at a football scrimmage. The team made sure that the freshman felt the love.

My son told me recently that he sat alone in his room watching Netflix, too shy to join in the freshman welcome activities.

Last July, he came with us to watch his little sister swim at a big meet. His eyes opened when he saw coaches from all across the country there recruiting. He saw some of his top school choices. It was like a light bulb went off.

He did what he wanted to do at the time, though. One thing about swimming or any sport — it has to come from your child. We may think we know best, but in reality it has to come from them.

Robert and Kat a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.

My kids a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.

What happens when parents are over-controlling?

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My daughter, teary-eyed in royal blue.

I believe it was easier to raise toddlers than young twenty-somethings. The reason why can be explained in one simple word: control. I had total control when my kids were babies. Yes, I was a wee bit tired, but hey, I’m tired today. I realize now I have very little say so. I no longer get to decide what my kids eat, what activities they do, who their friends are, what they wear and when they go to bed. I look back fondly on the days when I could tell my kids what to do and they’d do it. I wrote a SwimSwam story about 10 Things Parents Can and Cannot Control.

Of course, I’m not “raising” my twenty-somethings anymore. In theory, they’re raised and my job is done. My job now is more of a sounding board. And they take my advice from time to time, but not always. I worry a lot about them, but they are okay. It stresses me out when I give advice and they don’t take it. After all, I do know a few things about life. Of course, life doesn’t work in a straight line without some ups and downs along the way, although I expect and want my children’s lives to be perfect.

If I look back closely on my kids as toddlers, I will admit that I didn’t have total control. Toddlerhood is when they begin to test the boundaries. And my two kids pushed back from time to time. For example, we had a car without door locks and my toddler son could open the door while I was driving. Thank the Lord for the car seat! I tried to explain to him in words he could understand, that if he opened the door while I was driving he could go “splat” on the road. For the next few days, he’d open the door and yell “SPLAT! Mommy SPLAT!” and giggle uncontrollably. 

With my daughter, I really wanted her to love ballet. I wanted more than anything to be a dance mom. My daughter hated it. She thought I was punishing her by making her dress in tights and a leotard when it was scorching hot outside. Her brother got dropped off at the pool with the swim team, and that looked like way more fun to her. My daughter’s ballet teacher pulled me aside one day and said, “I know your daughter has the ability, but she stands at the barres and refuses to do anything.”

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I took ballet lessons as a child but when I lost a ballet slipper at age 11 or 12, my mom said, “I can tell you aren’t really interested” and she took me out of ballet class. The biggest issue with my ballet class, wasn’t the missing ballet slipper. She enrolled me in the Bellevue Ballet School with Gwenn Barker, which was a 45-minute drive from Snohomish, our home town. My mom always believed in the finding the best of everything, and I had no idea how great a teacher Ms. Barker was until I ran across her obit and read her life accomplishments. Mom had to pick me up from school before the bell, with some fabricated note of why I needed to be excused–which the school figured out pretty quickly. Then, it was a hassle when I moved from ballet class one day a week up to three or four days a week. So the missing ballet slipper was the nail in the coffin to my dancing.

But, I loved it enough that when I went to the University of Washington, I enrolled in ballet from day one. After I moved to So Cal, I enrolled in ballet at the local community college and eventually at a dance troupe downtown Palm Springs. As I got older, my bones and joints found swimming to be a good substitute. In the end, my daughter and I both ended up as swimmers. Funny how that worked.

What I’m trying to say through all the reminiscing, is we really can’t control what our children do and it’s not healthy for them for us to try. We need to support them in their passions, even if they might not be ours. We need to let them take ownership and learn from their decisions and actions. Just my two cents worth.

What are your thoughts about controlling our children’s lives and letting go?

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Just breathe

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I start my mornings with a walk.

Lately, it seems like people get really upset at just about everything. I find myself getting honked at while driving, snapped at by a total stranger in a grocery store. Even family is pretty snarky. I’ve found that taking a deep breath can really help. I wrote about handling conflicts this week on SwimSwam

If I don’t say so myself, I had some pretty good tips that I’ve learned through the years—through my own mistakes and how I handled things badly. Some of my advice is to take your time before you react. Think if you really need to say something or not. And, exercise before you speak. 

When my kids were young, I’d get riled up over the littlest things and march into their classrooms to talk to their teachers. I often felt that my kids weren’t being treated fairly or that something was “wrong.” I felt a moral obligation to point out and try to correct all things amoral. I’m afraid my son is also a stickler for what’s right and wrong, rather than letting some things slide. Here’s an example of one time I felt things were unfair: the same kids at their grade school were picked each year to ride the homecoming float in our town’s parade. I thought that wasn’t “fair.” My kids were never picked and felt left out.

Years later, I realized that the family who donated all their time and money to create the annual float were picking the kids. And guess what? They picked their kids’ friends. Actually, with thousands of dollars and hours of donations, why shouldn’t they get that right?

Was it worth complaining to the teacher or principal about? Probably not.

So with everyone running around with short fuses these days, just stop. Take a deep breath. Think about what you want to accomplish. Are you looking for a fight, or do you want to let it go?

It makes me think of the Anna Nalick song Breathe.

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A beach walk can cure mostly anything.

How do you deal with conflicts with other people? Why do you think people are short-tempered lately?

How to raise kids who won’t quit

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Piano duet at a yearly recital.

One of the most important things about “sticking with it” is allowing our kids to find something they’re passionate about. It can’t be what we want them to do. It has to be what THEY want. By introducing our kids to several activities, hopefully, they’ll discover something they’re good at and want to pursue.

In an article called “My mom’s one sports rule? No quitting,” by Samantha K. Smith on espnW.com, I remembered the t-shirts one of my all-time favorite swim dads came up with for the Piranha Swim Team, “Winners never quit, Quitters never win.” We wore those shirts with pride for years.

From the article:

“When it came to giving her children unsolicited sports advice, our mother got a lot of flack from her five kids who knew her experience was limited. The one and only story she told of her high school cheerleading days was about how the front of her skirt was longer than the back because the girl who’d previously worn it was pregnant. So we often went to Dad for help with our free throw or pitching form; we went to Mom for rides to practice, trips to the mall for new sneakers, and to locate the water bottle stash. Our mother worked late nights at the YMCA for our discounted memberships and paid our uniform and league fees without question each season. But she had one strict, abiding rule when it came to signing up for a new sport: There was no quitting.

“This was why I had new, never-worn softball gear hanging in my closet for the duration of high school. I’d ordered the uniform but remembered Mom’s tenet: If I was unsure whether I could make the full commitment, I shouldn’t officially sign on to the team.

“Now I walk into the basketball gymnasiums of my childhood and see parents storming off with their children after a bad referee call, or children quitting teams midseason because of playing time. In an age of helicopter parenting and participation trophies, my mother set out to teach us one of her most valuable lessons about commitment. If you make one, you see it through even if, and especially when, it’s not playing out favorably for you.”

I did let my son quit a few sports, but only because we had him overbooked with “if this is Tuesday it must be tennis” running from one end of the valley and back to get from piano lessons to the court. During a stressful rushing afternoon, I hit a curb, got a flat tire and realized that enough was enough. Eventually, we settled on a single sport and music. Our routine and life went swimmingly well from then on.

My daughter blames me for not letting her quit piano for years–and she hated it. It wasn’t until the piano teacher told me that perhaps piano wasn’t her thing, that I realized I didn’t have to fight her to practice daily, or drag her to piano lessons anymore–and we’d both be happier!

I interviewed the Anderson family for an article in SwimSwam magazine. The Andersons have three daughters, two are Olympic medalists and the youngest currently swims for a D1 university. The mom also had the same rule as the writer above. She said that each year she’d sign the girls up for swimming with the understanding that they were committing for the year. When the weather was no longer perfect sunny and warm and one of them asked to quit, she’d remind them that they had agreed for the year. When the new season started, it was once again warm and beautiful outside and her daughters would commit again.

There’s something to be said for sticking through it all—so long as the situation isn’t abusive or dangerous. A lot of life lessons can be learned when things aren’t perfect.

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Once we settled on one sport, things began to go swimmingly.

What is your rule for your kids and activities? Do you make them stick with it through the season? Did your parents have a “never quit” rule?

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?

 

When Should Children Specialize In Sports? Part II

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This is one of my earlier posts about sports specialization. I still agree with most of this, but I see one factor about earlier sports specialization that isn’t so great–repetitive use injuries. However, I don’t know if a swimmer’s shoulder would still be injured if they started at ages 9 to 11, versus age 5. That’s a tough question to answer.

 

“Do you ever get tired of trying and coming up short of your goal? You’re just not getting where you want to be and you’ve tried and tried again? For many people the capacity to push through obstacles to get where they want to go demonstrates a strength of character trait groomed and implanted in their early childhood. Changing one’s character later in life happens, but it’s usually difficult.” ***

Two common complaints against specializing in a sport at an early age are: it causes burnout, and there’s no clear advantage to it. (Last week I wrote about isolation and specialization.) 

I disagree with both based on my experience as a swim parent. What I find odd is how many athletes are going to burn out if they are achieving success? If they’re winning races and moving on to the next level, they will feel a sense of accomplishment.

I have a friend who was captain of his golf team at Harvard. He has a zero handicap. I asked him if he ever got bored playing golf.

He said, “I never get tired of hitting great shots.”

There appears to be a clear advantage of specialization in a single sport — at least sports like golf or swimming, where there are specific skills and techniques. If a child is jumping from sport to sport, rather than focusing one sport, that child probably won’t progress much — unless they are truly gifted athletes.

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When swimmers hit a plateau and don’t improve for more than a year — which is like multiple years to a person 11 or 12  years old — but they stick with it and eventually break through and improve — the life lessons learned are incredible! Talk about a reward!

Take my daughter who is turning 18 this week. She began swimming at age five. She had lots of improvement until about age 11 when she couldn’t break the one minute mark for the 100 free for more than a year and a half. I’ll never forget her frustration, but she also showed determination. She didn’t quit. She didn’t try another sport for a season here or there. She worked very hard and rarely missed swim practice.  At a Junior Olympic swim meet — she went 57 seconds in the 100 free.

Her coach asked her, “What happened to 59 and 58?”

She said with a smile, “They are highly over-rated!”

The lesson she learned was that with hard work, success will come eventually. In the meantime, perseverance was nothing to sneeze at. She’s still swimming, by the way, and earned a college scholarship.

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Regardless when a child starts a sport, they have to love it! They can’t be putting in the hours to please their parents or their coach. Also, when they are very young, it has to be fun. If they aren’t having fun, it’s tough to keep them in the sport.

Building character and strength in our children can be a part of their specialized sports experience!

***The quote is from SWIMSWAM: Jason Lezak & Seeds of Third Effort (worth reading!) by Chuck Warner, coach and author of And Then They Won Gold: Stepping Stones To Swimming Excellence: This article is about Jason Lezak’s difficulties in college swimming and how it prepared him for the most amazing Olympic relay. Ever. 

More valuable info for parents about swimming can be found at USA SWIMMING.

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When do you think children should specialize in a single sport? What advantages and disadvantages do you see?