Category Archives: Guest blogs

Unsporty mum of three sporty kids

washing

A guest blog: my wife, who writes about the profound pleasures, challenges, frustrations and worries of being mother in a sporty family

My life as a mother to three sporty children is very different from the world I grew up in. I was the middle of three girls, in a family where there was little or no sport, beyond the semi-occasional bad tempered Sunday afternoon walk and where organised sport of any variety was loudly and violently opposed by my father. Sports Days were ridiculed, failure to achieve at sport was lauded and sport on television was sworn at, with the single exception of the barely tolerated Wimbledon fortnight as a sop to my mother. People who liked sport, or attempted to engage in discussions about it, were branded ‘stupid’ and ‘brainless’.

I now believe that my father’s vehemence on the subject was a direct result of feeling excluded from what he saw as a club to which he was not eligible. I felt/feel this too, but as a girl from a family of girls, going to a girls only school, I think I had an easier ride. The place was full of sports avoiders, citing various recently acquired ‘women’s troubles’ to excuse themselves from games.

The sense of being able to belong to a club – not just a literal sports’ club pursuing an individual sport, but a type of sporting fraternity – is one of the main reasons that I feel sport is hugely beneficial to my children, particularly my sons and even more particularly, my elder son. He is a clever, articulate boy of 12 who has always achieved very highly at school (like his grandfather), has always found exams and tests almost laughably easy (like his grandfather), who spouts obscure facts and, magpie like, acquires bits of general knowledge constantly (like his grandfather), who could quite easily be branded a ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’ and who is nevertheless enjoying his time at school because he is accepted by his peers and has a lot of friends (unlike his grandfather). Without sport in his life, I am not sure that he would be having as enjoyable a time. Sport gives him an instant passport to friendship. Not sure what to say to that boy who he thinks is way cooler than him? Kick a ball to him, try out skills with him and you won’t even have to talk, not yet. Get a goal past him and you can walk back from lunchtime break a little bit taller – especially useful if you are the shortest boy around, which he usually is.

My younger son (just turned 8) also fits in with his classmates because he is good at sport. It is so integral to his sense of self that he divides the boys in his class into ‘football boys’ and ‘others’. He always has someone to play with, even if he never has a meaningful conversation with them, just because they like the same thing, he is good at it and that is enough. He is more naturally sporty than his older brother and I am aware that this could cause tensions in the future. He is so fast and strong that he can now beat his older brother in a running race and he can match him at football. I fear that sibling rivalry could rear its head, but so far, this has been by-passed, due in no small measure to his older brother’s somewhat surprising magnanimity and self awareness. ‘He is a much better footballer than me, it’s right’ he commented, when his little brother was scouted for a more prestigious club, an honour which has never been conferred upon him. Perhaps it is because there is still enough of an age gap – and a sister in-between them.

The sister, my daughter (10) is also very sporty. Gymnastics in her case, although she is also good at climbing and running. When I think about why sport is good for her, my reasons are not the same as those for the boys. She fits in at school by walking around the playground with a small group of girls, talking, laughing, writing stories. She doesn’t need to impress by being faster or stronger. What I see that sport gives her is a pleasure in the power of her body. She is tiny and skinny, but strong and flexible and has such an ease about herself. It is my profound hope that she can retain this sense of self through her teens and adult life. I do not want her to be tormented by her body and look at herself with self loathing, as I do and have done for as long as I can remember. I want her to inhabit her 10 year old self, to look at her body and know that it is strong and capable and healthy, even if she loses her current ability to jump down into the splits or throw herself backwards on a beam. I hope I can encourage her to continue with sport once her body starts changing, once her peers cover their burgeoning curves and introduce the idea that there should be shame about the adult female body.

I love that sport has given my children fitness, strength and confidence and yet I do feel ambivalence about it also. Enabling their sporting lives leaves me feeling depleted and inadequate. I am the driver, who does not get enough exercise herself – it is so difficult to find the time with four football sessions, three cricket sessions and two gymnastics sessions a week (not counting any grammar school fixtures and not taking into account music lessons, play-dates, homework etc which all have to be fitted in after school, after my work). I am the kit-washer, drowning in a never ceasing tidal wave of sweaty, muddy polyester and constantly accused of having lost various vital items. I am the cook, catering to different tastes, obsessions and timetables; needing to fuel them with sufficient calories to keep them going and fighting a losing battle not to join in on that, if not with the sport itself. I am the wife of a cricket loving husband, playing second fiddle to his tweeting and blogging obsessions. I remain a facilitator, not a participant and, though I never wished to fall into a stereotypical position, that is exactly what I have done. The mum who beavers about behind the scenes, but doesn’t always make it to cheer from the sidelines. The one who is a bit rubbish at anything physical herself; not part of the club.

I feel a lot of ambivalence about being on the sidelines. I spend a lot of my time in the home trying to talk to my children about being sensitive to others, not being aggressive, not trying to be competitive and definitely not talking about it if they do better than one of their friends at something. Sport turns all that on its head; their coaches talk to them about beating the opposition, about getting the gold medal in gymnastics and it goes against much of what I try to instil in them in other areas of their life. I find the testosterone fuelled matches very difficult to tolerate, particularly the bullying shouts of some touchline dads: ‘pull yourself together’, ‘that was rubbish’ etc.

This spills over, for the boys at least, into a commercialised world that, again, goes against what I try to say to them about other areas of their lives. They are bombarded by the latest boots, at extortionate cost, the latest Manchester City kit (at more than £40 for a small boy’s shirt alone), the acceptance of an ideal of sporting excellence that is at odds with my own sense of what is morally right. And yet, this is part of the male club they wish to inhabit. This is part of their expectation of what being a sporting man involves and I do not want to be the spoilsport who tries to stop them accessing their world and fitting in.

So when I think about my views on the value of sport for my children, I find myself, as a mother, trying to move on from my childhood inheritance. I value – greatly – my children’s physical health and love of sport. I love their perfect bodies. I love their shining eyes, their wind reddened cheeks and their exhausted innocence, sleeping at the end of the day. At the same time, I mourn my own ageing body and fear the influences of their teenage years knocking at my door. We must all fight against the gender based stereotypes that potentially await us and seek to trap us: I have the challenge of finding my own way with some sort of sport/exercise; I must make sure my daughter is equipped to address the expectations that puberty and teendom will give her; I must allow the boys to grow into men, whilst ensuring I try to maintain my own influence on how they do that. Sport is part of their identity; I don’t expect that to change.

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Filed under Guest blogs, parenting, sport gives us.., young shoulders

“Dad, I want to give up..”

I (and you, too, dear TouchlineDad reader) am very fortunate because Mark Richards, author and blogger has written a guest post. Mark’s multi-award winning blog, Best Dad I Can Be, charts his family’s antics, with the self-deprecating but dedicated Dad at the heart of matters.

Mark’s story is about one of the challenges any Dad or Mum, particularly perhaps one with touchline interests, can face.

laws of the gameWhen I was young I played cricket. Lots of cricket. How good was I? I was good enough to know that I wasn’t quite good enough – and if you play sport, you’ll know what that statement means. You have to be really good to know just how good the players are who are going to make it professionally.

No matter. I played a lot. I enjoyed it and wouldn’t it be fantastic when I had a son and I could teach him – and maybe he’d be just a little bit better than I was…

And yes. Child number one was a boy. I watched him in his playpen hitting a ball with his rattle and thought it looked pretty promising. Except when he went to school and started playing cricket it wasn’t. Tom was in the team. But he batted somewhere around no. 8 and he didn’t bowl much – and when he did it wasn’t very effective.

No matter. We practised in the garden. I taught him everything I knew. But he wasn’t getting any better. He tried and tried but he was never going to be any good at cricket. He knew it. I knew it. But he wanted to please me – and I wanted to encourage him.

Then one day Tom came to me. “Can I talk to you, Dad?” he said.

“Of course you can.”

“I don’t want to disappoint you. But I want to give up cricket. I’m no good at it.”

We talked about it and we agreed that Tom was right. Was I disappointed? No, I was full of admiration for my son. For a twelve year old boy, that was a courageous – and a mature – conversation to have.

So Tom stopped playing cricket. He went upstairs to his bedroom, where he downloaded a CAD programme and taught himself to use it. He started to design F1 cars and a little while later he downloaded a CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) programme and taught himself to use that. Then he imported the car he’d designed and ran virtual wind tunnel tests. At 17 he was invited to work in Red Bull’s aerodynamics department for two weeks; this summer – now aged 19 – he’s spending three months in Force India’s aero department.

I still remember that moment when he came to talk to me. I’m immensely proud of what he’s achieved – but I’m even prouder of the fact that he had the courage to recognise what he wasn’t good at, and pursue what he was good at. And that he wouldn’t let his Dad’s dreams stand in his way.

He taught me a lot as well. Trust your children. If they don’t want to do what you want them to do, that’s fine. Trust them to find their own way – and to know what they’re good at. After all, whatever they do, you’ll always be their number one supporter.

Have you faced the situation of your son or daughter saying they want to give up a pursuit that means a lot to you? How did you respond and what was the outcome?

Best Dad I Can Be is on twitter at @BestDadICanBe and available in book and e-book format.

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Filed under Guest blogs, individual development, parenting

Twelve

twelveA guest blog from my wife:

My first born will be twelve in a few short days.

Twelve is between worlds, part fluffy chick, part weary adult. Twelve comes in from school each day and wants to sit down and watch a cartoon for children half his age, totally absorbed in the animated world of aardvarks. Twelve will cling on to me, still small enough to tuck under my chin and whisper that he wishes he was still at primary school. Twelve demands his own key to the door, but refuses to use it, choosing instead to pace up and down the road in the driving rain, all clenched fists and anxious eyes, if I am not home in time to let him in to the house after school.

Twelve wants to watch the news, eager to have the knowledge to passport him to the adult world. He asks question after question to make sense of it, unremitting in his quest to pin down the truth, the facts about the world he is going to. Twelve wants answers to be black and white; the realisation that the adult world he craves is more shades of grey panics him and sends him back to the aardvarks.

Twelve still kicks a ball at every opportunity, even absent mindedly idling bottle tops, dirty washing, cushions or anything on the floor with his foot as a ball substitute. He will then sit for hours watching sport on a screen, a little man-in-waiting. Twelve is too anxious to watch his team if he thinks they are going to lose, striding out of the room and ordering someone to turn it off, hummimg to himself – anything to take the embarrassment away.

Twelve often finds his brother and sister intolerable, embarrassing in their childishness, cruel in their closeness to each other. In his mind, they are children and he is the grown up and he does not or cannot access their world. Twelve reacts angrily to cleverly aimed, seemingly innocuous taunts from his siblings. He finds it increasingly hard not to hit back physically. He thinks I don’t see that he has been provoked, but I do. I must find a way to mother a man-child, who will be bigger than me one day soon, who is already stronger than me. I try to tell him I don’t always get it right, but I remember being twelve and I will keep trying.

Twelve chats easily to adults, particularly men. He often appears to find it easier than talking to boys, certainly than talking to girls. He chats readily and knowledgeably about sport and is animated and happy in their company. Adults love him too; he is not (yet) a typical (pre) teen, does not grunt and hunch but is articulate, clever and funny.

Twelve is crippled with embarrassment by me in public. He cannot make eye contact when being picked up in the car if his school friends are present. He does not say goodbye if being dropped off, but walks away from the car quickly, with determination and anxiety to get where he is meant to be on time. His shoulders are always hunched, his fists clenched; he cannot bear the prospect of being late. He is careless in his criticism of his parents, not yet realising or caring that prefixing an observation with ‘No offence, but…’ does not mean that that it will not cut to the quick. At the same time he is learning to apply this to himself – acknowledging with generous acceptance and without rancour that his younger brother is a better footballer than he is.

In private, Twelve wants cuddles and chats. He will kiss me on the face and press his still-smooth cheek against mine, asking me how my day was. He cannot go upstairs alone and wants to be tucked into bed. He says he will not sleep unless one of his parents is in the room next door, consciously keeping himself awake as long as possible in tense anticipation of something he cannot articulate.

He wants to play ‘capital cities alphabet game’ and I have nearly run out of obscure ones to test him on. I find myself revising in secret to try to prolong the games with him.

Twelve’s glass is half empty, but it has always been so. He wages a constant battle against real or anticipated disappointments. Aged five, eagerly awaiting his first World Cup experience, already seeing his place in the world of televised sport, he comments sadly and with heart-clenching insight after a few minutes’ silent viewing ‘but it’s just an ordinary football match on an ordinary pitch’. He copes with his regular disappointments by mythologizing his past, by giving compartmentalised, absolute assessments of times past. Current events or experiences rarely match his view of his past: the campsite we visited on holiday in 2010 is the best one we could ever go to; the book he is reading will never be as good as one he has already read and ‘to be honest, it’s not as good as….’is a regular refrain.

At the same time, he is increasingly aware of his part in the current generation, the almost-teenager has a healthy sense of entitlement and ownership of the world. Driving with him on a sunny day, he observes the bright greens of the trees we pass in our affluent suburb: ‘I’m not being funny, Mum, but in the Seventies and Eighties, were the colours as bright?’ He laughs, embarrassed – aware that what he is asking must be true, but unable to quite believe that other people, me, could have seen the world as though through his fresh eyes. He backtracks as I laugh, not wanting to be thought silly or having asked a stupid question. We compromise on agreeing that no, cars were not as colourful and shiny when I was his age but the trees and sky looked pretty much the same as I remember.

Twelve is lovely, complex, loving, bright eyed and bushy tailed, disdainful, world weary and sarcastic. He is a complete person, he is my son. He is two, five, ten, twelve, thirty, fifty and who knows what. I miss my baby, but I can still see him in there. I am looking forward to knowing the man he is going to be.

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Filed under Guest blogs, individual development, social animals