Saturday, June 22, 2013

Please Stop Making That Dreadful Sound - That's Six Words, Too

Do you all know about the six words you're supposed to say to your child? To my surprise, these six words are not, "get it yourself; I am busy." Rather, according to the Hands Free Mama blog those words are, "I love to watch you play," which is what you should tell your child after a sporting event or activity. Rather than criticizing or critiquing your child's performance, you should just say, "I love to watch you play," and leave it at that. This frees a child from feeling the pressure to perform to a particular standard to please her parents. Of course, reading the blog left me feeling like I was not performing to a particular standard to please my children. What does it say about me that my list of six-word phrases for my children would include: "take the bag off your head," "please stop making that dreadful sound," "shut the door, I hate mosquitos," and "doing that might lead to death?" Clearly, it says that I will not be winning the same mother-of-the-year award that I expect the Hands Free Mama will be receiving.

I totally agree with the premise that kids don't need the pressure of feeling like they're going to disappoint their parents if they don't play well. I've seen my share of parents who berate their kids during a game, and I can only imagine that the berating is worse in private. I am totally on-board with not screaming at your kid about that ball he dropped. My problem with the blog is that Hands Free Mama makes me feel like I should be sobbing with pure joy watching my children's sporting events even if I've driven two hours to get to the game and the game has been called after 45 minutes because we're losing 24-0. If I have to be honest, sometimes I don't love to watch them play. Sometimes I'd just rather be at home reading a book.

One of the not so great qualities of the Internet is its ability to deliver feelings of inferiority in a very efficient manner. Years ago you could be mostly ignorant that people were doing a better job than you parenting, decorating, cooking, crafting, exercising, and being clever. Thanks to the Internet, you can read blogs whose authors prove your inferiority on a daily basis. Of course, I don't think that the goal of blogs like Hands Free Mama is to make people feel inferior, I think it's to help people. Clearly, her message resonates with a lot of people. Her Six Words post was shared by multiple friends of mine on Facebook. Another friend (who I love and respect) sent it to me directly because she liked it so much. As I said, the explicit message is perfectly sound and reasonable. What I find unfair is the implicit message that parents must feel a certain way when they are watching their child perform. Maybe that's the Hand Free Mama's moment for her daughters, but maybe it's not for me. I don't like being told that I'm not feeling enough or that what I'm feeling isn't right. I think that a lot of emotions are contradictory and you don't feel pure emotions about things. I love my children, but I'm happy when they go to bed. That doesn't make me a bad parent, it makes me nuanced, and complex, and contradictory. It makes me a human being.

Even the decision to allow your children to participate in activities in the first place can be fraught. As I mentioned, the Boy has been playing travel baseball this summer and let me tell you, it has been a major time commitment. Taking into consideration practice time, driving to games, and game time, I'd estimate we're spending over 20 hours a week on baseball-related activities. This has been very hard on my two children who are not playing baseball and who decidedly do not love to watch their brother play this much baseball. So, when I'm watching him play baseball, I am happy for him and I like watching him enjoy himself, but I also feel badly that my girls are spending another summer weekend in the hot sun watching their brother's team get mercy ruled for the tenth time in three weeks.

And that brings me to another point, it's not fun to watch your kid lose all the time. You can use all the flowery language you want to describe the beauty of your child stretching to catch a fly ball, but watching their team lose game after game just sucks, plain and simple. I know that learning to lose is important. I know the valuable life lesson gained by losing and then returning to play again. Despite all that, it is not fun or enjoyable in any way to watch your child being demoralized. If, after losing a game 20-0, I told the Boy, "I love to watch you play," he'd want to punch me in the face or have me committed. What kind of mother loves to watch their child's team get slaughtered week after week when they are trying so hard and spending so much time trying to get better? I think that under these circumstances, it is okay to not love to watch your child play.

I also find it hard to have a pure, engaged moment at a sporting event. In the six words blog, Hand Free Mama describes the happiness and awe she feels while she watches her daughter competing in a swim meet. Kudos to her and her zen. While I am trying to watch one child's game, I am always distracted by one or two other children whining about wanting something from the concession stand or going to the playground or asking when we can go home. Also, I can't help but think about all my friends who have described swim meets as, "interminable," "a nightmare," and "hellish." I wonder whether Hands Free Mama has ever been the bullpen mom (described in the blog I've linked to as "like a cockfight, only less humane.")  

So, Hands Free Mama can enjoy her moments watching her daughters' swim meets or ukulele lessons (for reals), but those aren't my moments. My moment is all three of the kids playing together in the pool. My moment is them sitting side by side by side on the sofa, with the Boy in the middle, stroking his little sister's hair. My moment is them working together to build a catapult out of duct tape, a jump rope, and some plywood (unsuccessfully, thank goodness, for the sake of our homeowner's insurance premium). My moment is three kids tucked in bed and asleep so I can write. You have other moments about other things. It's all okay.  


  1. Absolutely agree! 6yo in baseball with 2yo on the sidelines= torture! Would rather say those six words after both kids are playing with each other with no crying or whining!

    1. Yay! A kindred soul. Thanks for the comment!

  2. I'm with you. I do love to watch my children sleep. They look so angelic, which is not the case during waking hours. As for bullpens, I now know why parents get so wasted at swim meets.

    1. I think I'm going to have at least one in swim team next summer. I guess I'd better start stockpiling valium now. Between swimming and baseball, June is going to replace December as the month I love to hate.