Or a chorus mom, or a swim mom, or a jiu jitsu mom.
To be clear, I still have a kid in gymnastics. I still have one in chorus and on the swim team, and two in jiu jitsu. And come fall, there are two more hoping to try dance. It’s just that my perspective has changed.
I once was a minor league gym mom. I didn’t get quite as crazy as I could have, but I was hanging out in the shallow water of the “gym mom” world. Giving a little too much thought to how my daughters were doing, whether they were getting the right scores and hitting the right skills. Spending a little too much time wondering why another girl got some extra attention, or standing over them as they completed mom-assigned conditioning at home. Rearranging our schedule and saying no to invitations to ensure that they never missed practice.
The chorus world did not suck me in quite as badly. For one thing, parents aren’t allowed to watch practices, so I wasn’t as immersed. I think the main reason is that it’s not competitive, although I will admit to wondering at every concert why that child got a solo and mine didn’t. And while I love watching my daughter swim in her events and watching her times grow shorter and shorter, the swim season is so comparatively short that it’s over before I have time to start getting too competitive.
I’ve written about this before, but I write again today for two reasons. First, today I saw yet another meme about sport parents. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t see some reference to gym moms or cheer moms or dance moms or soccer moms or. . . It goes on and on. Why do we insist on forming the identity of the parent around the activity of the child? My kids have been involved enough activities over the years for me to see that many of the stereotypes are true, at least of a handful of the parents. It’s astonishing how parents get so emotionally invested in their kids’ performance, so much so that they redefine their own existence around the activity of choice.
I was on that path. I praise God for circumstances and books and articles here and there that helped me back out before I made a fool of myself. The first post I wrote about this, linked above, shares some of the things I read that helped me. Another development that helped was having more kids involved in activities. I was forced to let go of my own involvement in my children’s sports by sheer logistics–different sports practiced at the same time, which meant I could no longer sit and watch. I had to drive back and forth. I also had more work of my own to do as I started writing and teaching more, so I began taking practice time to sit and work somewhere. Simply letting go of the habit of watching practices gave me so much emotional freedom and helped me shake off the “sport mom” identity that was starting to form.
The second reason I write again today is the video of the little gymnast. Maybe you’ve seen it; the tiny little girl who was invited to the Ellen show to show off her amazing gymnastics skills. As I watched it, and then later saw the sensation she caused, having thousands of followers on Instagram and being invited to hang out with some big deal gymnasts, I couldn’t help but think of my Catherine. Granted, she is not a gymnastics prodigy, but she loved gymnastics. She conditioned herself at home, she decorated her bulletin board with nothing but gymnastics, she had her plan set and her determination fixed to work hard, make it onto a college team, and then open a gym. She loved gymnastics. Until she didn’t. We’re still not sure exactly what happened, but the magic disappeared. Over the course of about five months this past winter she grew more and more frustrated and less and less excited. She was just done. I confess it was a little sad for me. I miss hearing her excitement after learning something new. I miss watching her tumble. I miss watching her love it. But I am so grateful that God had already helped me pull out of my “gym mom” identity crisis, so that I wasn’t disappointed with her for being done. I watched that video, and see several Instagram and Facebook accounts that parents have started for their three- and four-year-old “athletes” and I wonder if those kids will ever be allowed to be done. When a parent wraps their whole existence around their child’s talent, what will be left of them when the star stops shining? Parents, absolutely let’s enjoy watching our kids enjoy their activities–I still love watching my kids when I do get to attend a practice, and I love watching them compete–but let’s just not invest too much of ourselves in it.
Here are some questions to ask to evaluate if your identity is too enmeshed with your child’s sport:
Do you make them practice at home, beyond what their coaches require? Do you find yourself dropping other commitments that used to be important, like church or other family activities, for the sake of this sport? Do you fuss at them when they mess up? Do you hope another child will fail so yours will win? Do you resent when other kids do well, better than yours? Maybe the biggest one: how would you handle it if your child wanted to quit? Would she even be able to tell you or would she know you wouldn’t listen?
These days, I cringe when I find myself tensing up again upon hearing that another child got the solo or won the race or got the skill first. It still happens, I’m not going to lie. Thankfully, it’s a slight twinge now instead of a slight obsession. I’m remembering the truth that my kids’ hearts are way more important than their skills. I pay enough money to their coaches and teachers–I’ll let them worry about kips and solos and races and belts. I’ll focus on teaching humility and grace and respect and compassion. And most of all, I’ll point them to Christ, who will be their rest from all performance.
I don’t want to be a swim mom.
Moms, it can be so easy to get confused about our identity and end up placing our identity on our child. Please know that these are the confessions of a former gym mom, a mom who knows how easy it is to get too caught up in what our kids are doing, and no judgments are intended. I just want to plead with you: let’s be very careful to not place that burden on them. Don’t be a stereotypical sport mom. Just be mom.