Last week I was finally able to attend one of my son’s baseball games. Both girls had napped, and for once the weather was cooperating. I was pretty excited as my husband had shown me some videos, and my son seemed to actually be fairly good – well good for a six-year-old boy, that is. So the girls and I got there and set up camp. Immediately, of course, both girls took off for the sandbox. (By the way, did I mention sand is definitely one of those four-letter words.)
Anyway, my son’s team performed, for the most part, as I expected. They screwed around a lot, cheered each other on, repeatedly climbed the fence and got yelled at, taunted the other team – you know, normal boy stuff. Then one boy went up to bat. And after numerous attempts to get a hit (I’m not quite sure what the rules are for this age because he swung his bat at least seven times), this boy was finally called out. And wow was he heart-broken. He walked back to the bench with his shoulders hunched down and immediately started crying. As in sobbing like he just caused his team to lose the World Series. And he wouldn’t stop. He cried all the way up until it was his team’s turn to go into the outfield.
Now my first reaction was oh, the poor kid. But as I watched him, I began to be amazed and overwhelmed – I’m not even sure exactly what I was feeling – at this kid’s intense emotion over merely striking out. None of the other boys really even seemed to pay attention to his reaction, and no one else, thankfully, seemed to get too upset if they struck out or made a mistake. I mean again, it’s six-year-old kids playing baseball. Practically every move is a mistake isn’t it?! Anyway, it really got me thinking about the pressure some kids feel about the need to succeed. And sure, I get it. I got a little nutty during finals or any test really and felt if I didn’t succeed I’d be ruining my life. (Oh the crazy hormonal mind of a teenage girl!) But this was a group of six year olds that were supposed to be just learning how to actually properly play a sport. And in my opinion, the only thing that should have been on their minds was how much fun they were having.
But is this where it starts? Are six year olds already feeling the pressure to be the best? Of course some people might immediately put blame on the parents. But this kid’s dad was there and he kept encouraging his son and reminding him it’s not a big deal, just try again next time. So yes while there are definitely a crap ton of insane parents out there, this dad certainly didn’t seem to be one of them. So again I ask myself where does this extreme pressure kids put on themselves, or feel from an outside source, come from? Because knowing me, had that been my kid I most likely would have brushed him off and told him to buck up and move on. But for some, that intense need to be the best manifests and can turn deadly. So as a parent, how do you know the difference between knowing that your child simply needs to take a step back and take a few breaths from knowing that they have one foot off the edge of that very dangerous cliff?
I’ve experienced my four year old tell me her day had been ruined because some other little girl decided that she didn’t want to play with her. It didn’t matter that five minutes later they were best friends again. My daughter’s focus, when asked about her day, was on that one minute of rejection. And yes that’s four-year-old girl dramatization at its finest, however it still causes me to pause and think “oh, shit is this a glimpse into her (my) future?” And if so, how will she handle rejection? How will my son handle not being good enough to make some sports team because there’s 476 kids in his class and only 30 kids will be picked to be on the team?
These types of issues that kids seem to face these days – at least in the suburbs where I’m raising my family – are things that I never had to deal with. Hell we had to recruit kids from neighboring towns just to have enough kids to make a team so we could even play a sport. And as for being a successful student, yes I absolutely put in my time and effort because it’s how I was raised, but looking back I wasn’t in the top tier of my class because I was overly smart. I simply studied more than most, and when your class has about 32 students in it, it’s easy to be up near the top. Had I been raised in these suburbs where you’re competing with hundreds of hard-core, studious, and determined kids, I never would have had a fighting chance getting into the University of Illinois like I did. I had wanted to go to Illinois since I was in junior high and I think it was the only in-state school I applied to (and of course my dad vetoed even the idea of paying for out-of-state tuition.) But if I hadn’t gotten in, what would that have done to my 17-year-old impressionable self? Would I have been able to handle that kind of rejection when I didn’t really even have a plan B? And to fully understand that one particular college wouldn’t determine my future, because that job was actually up to me. I would like to think so, but in reality all it takes is one out-of-your-mind moment to make a decision that could cost you your life.
It saddens me to think of my kids suffering, or any kids for that matter, because they did poorly on a test or didn’t get invited to a party or was the last out in the game. Kids tend to focus on THAT moment only and can’t grasp the concept that five years from now, hell five months from now, none of their current sorrows even will matter. Because to them and their developing brains, THAT moment is the only thing they can even think about. And whether it’s intentional or not, kids are indeed always under pressure. The pressure to be popular and have a lot of friends, to get good grades and ultimately be accepted to a good college, to be good at sports and aim for a scholarship. And the list goes on. But as we know, it’s impossible to be the best at everything and sometimes even anything. But that’s still okay.
As I’m writing this, my brain keeps attempting to go off on so many different tangents that can be associated with this post. But for me, I suppose my main purpose in writing this is to simply remind myself of the importance of my job. I’m not curing cancer or making people millions, but I do have three tiny monsters that depend on me to show them and to teach them how to shrug off that strike out or friendship rejection. But not only that, but how to shrug it off and still be happy; maybe not that at that moment, but having the capability and self-confidence to eventually get there. I’ve come to learn that it’s hard as shit to be a parent, especially a good one. But I also won’t forget that it’s just as hard to be a kid. To be engulfed with such intense feelings and emotions that all kids, at some point or another, struggle with and to not necessarily have the maturity needed to be able to properly manage those feelings. It’s hard work. Over the years, my advice to my children is going to change. But for now, my focus is on them having fun, being kids and being nice. Unfortunately, they’re going to feel the competitive pressure their entire lives. But for right now, it should be nothing more than a game.