Escaping The Parent Trap

A Parent's Greatest Strength And Weakness

It is no easy task to be a parent of a young athlete. Hard enough are the tasks of helping the child learn how to handle the ups and downs of competition. But perhaps most challenging are the demands on your own coping skills - learning how to manage emotions that are repeatedly tested under trying conditions.

As a parent, you experience a rush of positive emotions when your child triumphs, a deflating sense of emptiness when they lose. This emotional process can almost become addicting. Instead of focusing on the child�s goals, you can get caught up in seeking more experiences where you can feel that rush of positive emotions. You can begin to focus on your own fantasies for your child - fantasies of success, fame, and recognition.

A common problem is that your love of your child may lead you to behave in ways that ultimately hurt the child�s development, or hurt their relationship with you. The paradox of being a parent is that the good reasons we have for pushing our children to succeed can, at the same time, lead to behaviors that teach our children to be selfish and grasping instead. A parent�s greatest strength - their unwavering emotional support of their child and their willingness to make sacrifices for their child�s athletic advancement - is thus also their greatest weakness.

The Parent Trap

Unfortunately, parents get caught in this trap all the time. It shows itself in the following ways:

  • Over-identification. You naturally identify with your child, but over-identification may lead you to ignoring your child�s feelings and focusing instead on your own.

  • Selfish dreaming. It is normal, as a parent, to dream of your child�s future, but sometimes parents get so attached to their own dreams that they lose sight of what the child wants.

  • Confusing investment with sacrifice. As a parent, you love your children so much that you are willing to make tremendous sacrifices on their behalf, spending money to support the child�s sport and taking the time to be there for the child. But parents may come to see these sacrifices as investments and then expect that the investments will pay off and yield tangible benefits.

  • Competing with other parents. You want your child to excel but it easy to get caught up in competing with other parents, pushing your child to succeed and hoping that the other children will fail, giving your child a chance to shine.

 
The Positive Versus The Dark Side

Watching parents who do a great job of supporting their child�s development in sports, and watching those who fall into the trap of pushing their child beyond the limits, I have seen that the difference between them is whether they can put their own desires aside (Dark Side) and focus on what their child wants (Positive Side).

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