This link was making the rounds among our Facebook friends last week, and if you have the time, it's well worth the read. The author, Rachel Macy Stafford, of the year-old blog post details how instead of being a critic -- even when the criticism was well-meaning and seemingly not angry -- of her children's sports and other pursuits, she instead replaced her encouragement/criticism with six words: "I love to watch you (insert activity here)."
Being a sports parent, I've always tried to be careful not to criticize for the sake of criticizing, to nor ever make my kids feel like they are disappointing me because they aren't doing well. Because they aren't. I'm so proud watching Ben swim across the pool or watching Michael pull down rebound after rebound. The stuff that usually drives me crazy, that I do get annoyed about, is when they whine, don't pay attention, or don't try. I've told them that I'll never be disappointed with the way they play.
That said, I do occasionally find my self saying something like, "That was great, I'm proud of you, this is how you could have done it better." I think it's my nature as a sports journalist to examine how something is played and think about how it could have been improved. I think I'm helping, and I want to believe it's coming from a wish that they succeed ... and feel good about themselves because they are succeeding. But I'm probably as guilty as the next well-meaning parent in focusing more on the criticism and less on the "I'm proud of you."
I read this post last week during the boys' swim practice. As soon as Ben got out of the pool, I told him, " I love watching you swim." I truly do, especially considering that at his age, I wouldn't come with in half a mile of a pool. After Ben's workout, Michael had diving, and here's where the six words really made an impact -- at least for me.
Michael has struggled with his back dive. The coaches tried teaching it to him last year, but he could never master it. He's so afraid of landing on his back (he did a couple times last year) that he starts leaning back, then just steps off instead of jumping from the board. Without the back dive, he can't compete in meets for his age group. His inability to risk landing on his back has tested my patience perhaps more than anything else he has done in sports. I've told him it's OK if he wants to quit diving, that he doesn't have to learn it, but that he can't go on wasting everybody's time if he doesn't even give it his best. The lectures, advice and pointed encouragement (I even quoted Yoda and Mr. Myagi last week) haven't helped. I'm watching him now as I type this and see him still stepping back off the board instead of launching himself out. It's frustrating.
Last week, the same day I read the blog post, I watched Michael struggle through another dive practice. However, I looked at it through the perspective that he could have quit, but he hasn't, and that he's still trying to overcome this fear (but it's just taking time). He got out of the pool after practice, half-expecting another lecture from me, but I said "I love how you keep trying." He kind of smiled at that and replied how the coaches and other divers have been really encouraging to him. And that's the last time we talked about diving.
I applied the six words to baseball as well. Michael made his league's U9 all-star team, mostly based upon how well he was hitting the first month of the season and not the last couple weeks when was afraid of getting hit by another pitch and jumping out of the batter's box. "I love watching you play baseball" was all I said on the way to his first all-star practice Saturday, not mentioning the fear he had been feeling or telling him that if he keeps backing out during pitches that he likely won't get an at-bat during the tournament. He loves hitting and know what he has to do; he didn't need to hear that from me one more time. The team didn't do any hitting practice Saturday, but at one point it looked like it would, and there was Michael, getting his bat out, almost chomping at the bit for a chance to get in the batter's box and hit again (which he loves -- again, it's why he was nominated for the all-star team in the first place). On the way home, I said "I loved watching you play first base." Michael (as well as Ben) will find his own way and will ask for help if he needs it. I don't need to pile more pressure on him, even if I'm not intending to. .
Yesterday, taking Michael golfing for the first time, I told him "I loved playing golf with you today." This morning, I reiterated to Ben: "I loved to watch you swim." I'm confident that even if he doesn't hit like he was, Michael will love these few weeks of all-star baseball. I'm watching him not get closer to the back dive, and aside for being thankful his coaches are so patient, am happy he's still getting back on that board to try again and again. Yes, I wish he would commit himself a little more, to take a risk, but he doesn't need me hearing that.
I love that my sons play sports, and try new things, and do their best in school, and generally let me be a cool, fun dad. I'm blessed that I can watch them play and watch their little victories, even if the big ones take too much time or don't happen at all. That's the bottom line, the six words I should never forget: "I love to be your dad."