I just finished watching A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, an expose about my childhood friend: Mr. Rogers. I remember the feeling of the hard floor under my legs as I sat transfixed to the color TV in my living room, or sitting cross legged on the mat in pre-school with the TV on a tall cart wheeled to the front of the room, or an older me standing behind Katja while I babysat her – still finding myself transfixed even if the train and puppets didn’t seem too real. Such beautiful and important lessons: love, acceptance, understanding emotions, learning, inclusion, trying new things, and - I like you EXACTLY and PRECISELY as you are.
I think as a child this is why I gravitated towards Mr. Rogers. His messages of love and acceptance spoke to me in a different and profound way. Even today, as Tom Hanks sang “I Like You as You Are” the bright smile could not be wiped off my face:
I like you EXACTLY and PRECISELY as you are. You turned out nicely. I like you as you are without a doubt or question or suggestion. I would not want to change you or even rearrange you. I like you as you are.
Life is a journey – a long path of positive and negative experiences and much in between and we keep on learning, growing, experiencing, loving – and we are perfect just as we are.
Of course, as I listen and watch this Mr. Rogers movie today I think of my own children. Did I express this unconditional love in the moment enough to them? I don’t think so, not enough.
Did their heart feel the same warmth and joy mine felt as I listened to the words “I like you as you are” when I spoke to them? Many times yes, of course they did, but I could have been better.
I think I put pressure on my children to be more – to be better – to be different. In reflection, I wish I had just paused and smiled and loved, inquired and tried to understand them more in the moment instead of telling them what they were doing wrong or how they could be better in the future.
Sports, unfortunately – brought out some of the worst of this from me. Why couldn’t I just love, accept and support my daughter in the moment instead of expecting more of her? I hear these same sentiments from other parents frequently. The skills our children need to improve upon. The comparisons of our children to other players. The essentialness of our child making a specific team. Parents caring way too much about the outcome of the game. Shaming our children for their performance through the “feedback” we give them on the car ride home about what they can do next time.
What does this focus on the future do to our children? Unfortunately, it leads to them feeling inadequate, full of pressure, and potentially results in them not loving the game like we ultimately want them to.
If we want our children to feel inspired by the game, what should our parental actions be?
Why don’t we trust our children (and our coaches and parenting) and accept that they will find their way and figure it out if we parent with strong principles that are relevant to their age? Can we ask and inquire instead of demand and tell? As they get older can we hold them to standards they set for themselves based on what they want out of the game, instead of setting the standards for them ourselves?
We must understand we really don’t know what is, in fact, in store for our children in the future and our job is to keep them inspired. Likely they will be most inspired if we provide them with autonomy-rich situations where the can feel competent and have strong connections to their team, coaches and the game.
I am sad that I spent so much time thinking about my daughter “not living up to her potential.” I’ve written about this stress openly here at SoccerParenting.com and I’ve spoken about how challenging it was to parent her at times – super athletic and fast, who as a young player lacked a strong mentality.
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I am grateful for changing my parenting behaviors before it made her quit the game! I learned about motivation and growth mindset and am grateful for the truly exceptional coaches in her life who guided her holistically and helped her dig within herself to develop a stronger mindset.
I know now that instead of criticizing her (even when it wasn’t harsh or even intentional), it would have been WAY more effective for me to genuinely try to understand her. I know that having perspective about how children develop and learn is important for parents.
If our children feel more love than pressure they will be more inspired.
Many of our children simply don’t yet have the skills and abilities they need to handle the pressure they feel from the competitive playing environment we have put them in. If they know we “like them exactly and precisely as they are” they will likely develop these skills and abilities faster.
We can guide our children with sound principles, while accepting and loving them in the moment. By overstepping and imploring them to change their behaviors now by force feeding them ideas about what they are capable of in the future – we are sending them messages that we care more about their performance than about them.
Yes, parenting is hard – and I hold no judgement for anyone else or stress about my past mistakes. I just want to learn. I am so grateful for stumbling across the Mr. Rogers movie this afternoon – for the wonderful flashback to my childhood - and for this important reminder about loving my children exactly and precisely as they are.