An audible gasp went up from the crowd as I watched my daughter hit the ground. She lay on her back for a minute, trying to catch her breath. The boy who slammed into her and then tripped her to the ground ran away, a huge grin on his face for taking out a formidable opponent.
I held my breath and resisted the overwhelming urge to sprint onto the field. My husband placed a warning hand on my thigh, silently reminding me to stay calm. I watched helplessly as the referee squatted down to check on her and after a moment, my daughter slowly sat up and then limped off the field.
Watching your child play sports can be heart wrenching
This was not the first time I have watched one of my children get hurt while playing sports. With three kids in multiple activities, we have spent a fair amount of time over the years in emergency rooms and doctor’s offices. Our family has definitely seen our share of sprains and broken bones, x-rays and MRIs, physical therapists and specialists.
You would think that I would be an expert by now. That I would be able to watch my kids play sports and still breath normally at the same time. But I have learned to hold my breath better than an Olympic swimmer when my kids are potentially in danger, as if my willingness to die for them will keep them safe from harm.
Seeing your child get physically injured is tough, but there is also the emotional side of watching your child play sports. My heart breaks for every missed goal or failed catch. I know how hard they practice and how much it means to them.
As a mom, it is terrible to watch their shoulders slump in disappoint or shame. Or to see them struggle to hold back tears after losing a playoff game.
For me, it has never gotten easier. After all these years, my first inclination is still to run onto the field, gather my child in my arms and soothe them.
There are two types of sports parents
My husband always manages to remain outwardly level headed. He is more the “rub some dirt on it and keep playing” type of guy. While I, on the other hand, am more the “come to momma and let me fix it” kind of gal.
What I have realized, is that this is actually pretty indicative of our parenting styles. My husband lets the kids explore and figure things out, even if he knows they will fail. I try to protect them from all harm, whether it is physical, mental or emotional.
Truthfully, I think they need both in their lives. Our kids need someone to tell them, “Go boldly into the unknown. Fail. Get your feelings trampled. Learn from your mistakes because you will make plenty of them in your lifetime.”
But they also need a soft place to come back to no matter what happens. They need loving arms that will hug them and assure them everything will be ok.
Raising teenagers is like watching your child play sports
Watching your child play sports is actually a lot like raising teenagers. You show up every day, armed with snacks and ready to cheer for them. They mostly ignore you and hang out with their friends, but they know that you are always there on the sidelines, rooting for them. And in their moments of triumph or tragedy, the first person they look to is you.
Truly, one of my favorite parenting moments so far has been watching my son shoot a game winning basket and then look for my husband and I in the stands, a huge smile and look of amazement on his face. It was his moment to shine and I was so incredibly proud of him.
But I would have been proud of him even if he missed that basket. I was proud of him for putting himself out there and taking a chance. I was proud of him for all the hours he spent practicing and studying the sport.
Because, you see, the whole crowd will cheer when your child scores, but who is on their side when they don’t? Deep down, your kid knows that YOU are their number one fan. And in the moments when things go horribly wrong; when they miss the shot or they have an off day, YOU will still be in the stands, supporting and loving them.
In their everyday lives, your teens are surrounded by fans when things are going well. When they land the starring role in the school play or get their drivers license, they have an entourage of friends.
But what about when they make mistakes? Or when something embarrassing happens? When the fans disappear, YOU will still be there, cheering for them.
Watching from the sidelines
With teenagers, we are forced to step back and watch from the sidelines as they experience great triumphs and tragedies in their lives. They go out into the world every day and try to score an A on a test, talk to their crush or land a job interview.
Sometimes they succeed and we can celebrate with them. And sometimes, they experience a crushing defeat and we have to pick up the pieces.
But we always have to watch from the sidelines. We can’t talk to their crush for them. We can coach them, build up their confidence and then cross our fingers and hope for the best. But we can’t play the game for them.
For some parents, like my husband, this is a thrilling adventure. He relishes seeing the kids grow into adulthood and learn how to deal with difficult situations on their own.
For other parents, like myself, it is painful to be a spectator and not an active participant in their lives. Gone are the days when I could shelter them from most of life’s hardships.
Rationally, I know this is part of growing up and I should trust that we have raised them well enough to handle it. The logical part of my brain realizes that they need to learn to figure things out on their own.
I know that not every day of their lives will be a slam dunk and that is normal. But my mom brain still longs to hold their hand a little longer and help them navigate murky situations a little easier.
Learning to let go and simply watch them play the game of life is like ripping off the world’s largest band-aid. But I am doing it, one small bit at a time.
At the end of the game
After the game, I said to my daughter, “You took quite a hit out there. How bad are you hurt?”
She replied, “I’ll be ok, mom. I’m just a little sore”
I nodded because I know she is right. She will experience obstacles in her life and she might come away bruised and battered, but she will will be ok in the end. And I will always be cheering for her.
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