I DO Care, But I Still Love Him

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“I don’t care if my kids play sports, I just want them to be happy.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say this, often some of my best friends, and almost always the parents of kids who are playing sports and loving it. This comment is usually a part of an explanation as to why they have their kids playing a sport year round at 9 years old or when they are telling me that their kids WANT to participate in 2 different leagues that require practice 4-5 nights a week. Essentially, it is always the parents whose kids ARE playing sports who say they don’t care. And always I wonder…would they say that if their kids DIDN’T play sports?

Tonight, as I was walking around the neighborhood after dark on a pretty crisp January night for North Carolina, I heard the bounce of a basketball. I followed the sound until I found one of the neighbor boys, a middle school aged kid, shooting baskets in his driveway by the light of the streetlight by himself. I was instantly taken back to my middle school days when I would shovel the neighbor’s driveway in the winter so I could shoot baskets on their garage hoop because I didn’t have one of my own. They had a light on the corner of the garage that lit up just enough of the driveway to see and I knew how to get in the garage and turn that light on (and they were patient enough to let me keep on shooting). It was where I first started to really love the game, where I first honed my skills, and where I first dreamed of playing college basketball (for Lou Henson and the Flying Illini!) Watching that boy shoot hoops in his driveway reminded me how much joy the game brought me as a youngster.

My wife and I both achieved many of our athletic goals – we were both scholarship athletes in our sports in college, we both coached at the high school and collegiate levels, and we both worked in big time college athletic departments. Sports were and remain a big part of our lives and who we are as people. To this day, I earn my living working with sports organizations at the college and pro level.

The thing is, despite our passions, abilities, and interests, our kids (ages 9 and 6) don’t play sports. Our kids aren’t even really that interested in sports. We’ve tried to make them play…not interested. It isn’t that they aren’t athletic – both are in the top 10% of height and weight for their age and both run and play around outside all the time. They just don’t play sports.

And I DO CARE! It bothers me. It makes me sad that I don’t have to call them in from the driveway for bed or tell them we have to stop playing catch because it is getting dark. It makes me sad because both Jessi and I have experienced first hand the value of team sports and are the people we are today because of our sports. But as I walked home tonight, I also realized that I LOVE THEM ANYWAY.

The picture above pretty much sums up my son, Jack. He’s happiest in a book store, sitting quietly by himself or playing in his imagination in a solo world. My daughter teaches her baby dolls all sorts of lessons and tags along with her big brother on his neighborhood exploring, which seems to be her happiest moments. And I’m learning to appreciate what makes them who they are and what makes them happy. But I’m not going to lie about how I feel about them not playing sports – I do care, but I love them anyway.

I hope that parents who say they don’t care will just stop and instead admit that they DO CARE and stop apologizing for it. It’s just what they enjoy doing right now and all you really should do is love them. Just be sensitive to what they really WANT to do and when they do want to stop playing sports, whether they verbalize it or not, let them. While they do want to play, encourage them but don’t overdo it, because when they stop you’ll realize that your really DO CARE and it may make you sad when they don’t.

I’m not his friend, but I’m not the enemy.

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I’m not his friend, but I’m not the enemy…I’m his dad.

My own journey towards greater self awareness always seems to hit a speed bump with my kids. Yesterday was a long day at work. I don’t do anything that is saving the world or curing cancer, but just like everyone else, I sometimes have long and challenging days at work. At the end of the day, as I was preparing to get dinner started I asked my son to get his homework started before dinner and get as much done as possible. Tantrum ensued…

My first instinct was: “you’re not his friend, that is an INAPPROPRIATE response to a simple request! Correct this reaction with an equally powerful CONSEQUENCE!!!”

And for the first time I paused (the self awareness creeping in), and a second thought crossed my mind: “you’re not the enemy either, redirect his response and work with him to get him to do what was asked.”

What I realized that night as I tucked my firstborn in and discussed his day is that I’m his dad, and that noun does not have the word ‘friend’ or ‘enemy’ in the definition. I often wring my hands at today’s Generation X Parent who out of a desire to be their child’s ‘friend’ becomes permissive, smothering, and protective. I now realize that in reaction to that, I have often taken on the role of ‘enemy’ by lashing out in harshness, elevating my own status to make sure I get what I want, and fighting anger with anger in battles with my kids.

I love them, have always loved them. But from now on, I’m going to strive to be dad, not friend or enemy. I’m going to correct without anger, react without overreaction, support with expectation, and love without obsession.