Brave parenting

Are you the adult you want your child to become? Brene Brown

This past weekend, I dropped our oldest (7 1/2 year old) for a competitive swim team tryout. New pool, new coach, and no parents allowed during practice (I blame Covid, but honestly, I wonder if that’s just their policy).

The coach at the pool looked at my kid and said to my baby girl “It’s going to be scary at first, but then you’ll have fun. But you are not allowed to be here (he turned to me at this point and I definitely heard a stern voice).”

Z put on a brave face, while every inch of my body screamed that I should grab her and get out of there. Two main thoughts running through my head - she will melt during practice (she is a rule follower and gets mild anxiety if she doesn’t think she is doing something right), or she will not get on the team and we have to have the conversation about lessons from failures – and I wondered if we are ready for that. Can’t we wait to teach her this lesson until she is 8, 9, 20 (all of the sudden I am better understanding the origin of participation trophies).  

Anyway - I left the pool with a stiff lip - hovered over the glass windows and promptly texted Adam all this who responded with a cool, calm and collected “worst case, this is good fodder for a college essay.”  

 As I reflect on this, I did not grow up as a team sport person. I did one tennis season when I was in 9th grade, but the school was far away, my family had newly immigrated from Russia and the athletic ethos did not really run through our Jewish immigrant blood (unless chess or math clubs count). So I didn’t pursue tennis (or other sports) but I did pursue other things with mixed success (failed run for middle school Vice President, successful yearbook editor in high school, rejected as a resident advisor in college, and so on).  

All this to say is that I’ve been in the “arena1” practicing being brave but being a parent and teaching being brave is a whole new ball game for me.  

As kids are getting older, I find myself wondering how do you model being brave to your kids – in the day to day and in the small and big moments. So this post is about Adam and I try to do – but wondering what you all do as well. If you have tips and tricks on how to model being brave and resilient to your children, please drop us a line and share your wisdom – or post a comment.  

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1) Are you wanting or are you willing?

When I was frustrated about not losing weight and becoming fitter, my coach used to ask me the above question. This summer, Z was practicing for her upcoming swim meet and she wondered why everyone around her was faster – I pointed out that likely they were going to practice every day, vs. the 2-3 days she conveniently chose. It was fascinating to see the gears turn and the subsequent change in behavior. Z did actually start going to practice every day and while she didn’t become the fastest kid in her cohort, she was very proud of her improvement.  

2) If you start, you should finish 

It’s easy to give up when things get hard. So the lesson I teach is that if you pick up an activity, you should see it through the period you signed up for and then decide if you want to keep doing it or not. This so far has applied to gymnastics, swim, sports camps, dance classes and now piano. I listen deeply and careful to my kids and try to meet them where they are in terms of their interests – but the deal is that when I do, they have to give it their best shot.   

To live this approach, Adam and I do our best to support our kids interests vs. push ours on them.For example, Z is interested in swim, skiing and rock climbing but not in soccer and softball. So I look for camps, lessons and opportunities that respect her interests and don’t assume that I know better. For the record, that is harder than it looks, because I’m pretty sure dance or gymnastics is something she’d really enjoy if she gave it more time.  

3) Own mistakes, apologize and model correcting the behavior 

I wish I could maintain the ruse to my children that I am perfect - there was a chance of that when they couldn’t talk, but alas that time has passed. Two weeks ago I booked Z for a Tennis camp without asking her. She politely inquired if she gets a say in the camps she gets to go to and when I responded affirmatively, she requested that I please check with her next time first. After my initial internal monologue of how how many balls I have up in the air and how hard I am trying for my kids to have a fun and active summer, I took a deep breath and acknowledged that we should have talked about this first. This also came right around the request of joint back to school shopping – so my days of treating my kids as dolls and buying them perfect dresses on my own are over. So we are now shopping for clothes together as well as discussing fall activities – big and small. It’s a lot more work and takes a lot more time, but I want my kids to see that they can talk to me about things that they don’t like and if I agree, I can take the feedback and change.  

4) Practice self-care and ask for what you need 

Adam and I try to show our children that while they are incredibly important to us and a huge part of our world, we also have needs, hobbies and wishes. So we actively talk about our interests and make time for those.  Candidly, I have learned how to do this from Adam more than I was ever taught to do this from my upbringing. I have watched our children ask Adam why he is writing (for example) and not spending time with them, the answer is because his hobby is important and he will be with be available to play in x number of minute after he is done writing.

Asking for what one needs is really hard if you do not train yourself to do it.  So we both try to model this to each other as well as to our kids – actively asking each other what support we need, thus creating the space to work out, write, go out together as well as recharge alone as needed.  

I love this quote from Glennon Doyle:  

“There is no greater burden on a child than the unlived life of a parent.” 
― Glennon Doyle, Untamed

5) Give children a chance to be bored

As a working parent, I want to be intentional about the time I spend with my children. That means that unstructured family time is just as important (if not more important) as sports, camps, academics, and playdates. This also means that our kids periodically wander around the house saying “what are we going to do today and I am so bored.” I remember my mother recommending that I take up a broom and sweep the floor if I would like an activity when I would complain about having nothing to do.  

Study after study shows that boredom is a good thing and helps develop creativity and foster mental and emotional development. So in our household, we embrace the boredom and fight the urge to over-program just as much as we strive to find fulfilling activities. Some examples of our family time is cleaning up, washing cars, having a dance party at home, grocery shopping/meal planning and reading. 

Summing it up – a friend once told me that it is a privilege to raise awesome humans. 

That comment stuck with me. Being a parent has taught me more about life than any job I’ve ever had. Every day, good or bad, I have to show up for my kids and put whatever successes or failures from yesterday behind me. I have 2 pairs of eyes watching and learning from me – how to be and not be.  It is humbling, daunting and amazing all at the same time.  

Here are some relevant parenting and leadership books:

How do talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk by Adele Faber

Raising children other people like to be around by Richard Greenberg

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Thank you for reading and giving me a voice to share my journey as a parent. By the way, Z did make the swim team. The coach turned out to be really caring and nice. He walked her out of practice to me and said that she is a hard worker and they’d love to have her join the team.

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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” ~Teddy Roosevelt