Spring and summer are all about baseball in my house. Then just when baseball is winding down, soccer starts up in earnest. Between my two sons, it sometimes seems as though most of my time is spent on a field. Or traveling to one.
If your children enjoy sports, it’s near certain you’ll be spending a lot of time in the car together traveling to games, tournaments or meets.
It’s hard to know what best to do with this family time. On the way there, it’s been my experience that the athlete tends to be anxious and doesn’t necessarily want to talk about specific strategy or plays. After the game is even tougher. Often we as parents want to rehash the game or even let our child know what he or she might have done wrong. Such an urge may be in the interest of helping our children become better players, but it’s the last thing they want to hear. This is one issue on which professional athletes seem to be in complete agreement. In interview after interview, professional athletes have said that all they wanted to hear from their parents after games was, “I loved watching you play.” A couple of years ago, my older son’s coach took an even briefer approach, instructing us that the only thing we should say to our boys right after the game was, “Where do you want to eat?”
I think both pieces of advice are helpful. We should tell our kids we loved watching them play and then give them a break from game talk for a while, especially if the game ended in a loss or was otherwise disappointing. But after such a break, when we’re all back in the car together to head home, we can use that time to support and encourage our young athletes.
The best suggestion I’ve ever heard for what to do with that driving time, from Susie Walton, the mom of former Lakers player and Lakers coach Luke Walton, was to do affirmations. If you have other players in the car, have them affirm each other. “I like it when you … on the field/court/floor.” It’s a great way for players to build each other’s confidence. On the way to the game, ask them to use examples from practice and on the way home, examples from the game they just played.
If it’s just your children in the car, everyone can affirm the player who is getting ready to play or who has just played. It’s a great exercise for my boys to think of ways to compliment each other, and I hope they treasure the compliments they receive.
And don’t stop with the player. If we are affirming our older son on the way home from one of his games, our younger son will pipe up with a “Hey, what about me?” And he’s right. Each person in the family should take a turn being affirmed. Sometimes it’s easier for my boys to compliment each other in a very specific format and when it’s about sports, but it’s not necessary of course to focus on sports alone. Very young children can take part in this, too. Affirmation is a great habit to cultivate, and I personally love hearing the surprising compliments that sometimes emerge from the youngest members of the family. For example, “You’re a great builder of Star Wars bases.”
We’ll be on the road early tomorrow morning to get to my older son’s game, and again in the afternoon to drive to my younger son’s game. I do love watching them play, and I’ll remind them of that. But I’m already looking forward to hearing what they have to say about each other’s efforts.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11
A version of this post first appeared on www.1corinthians13parenting.com.
When I speak to groups of moms with young children, I ask them to close their eyes and think of the last time they felt themselves relax into the moment so much that they lost all sense of time. When I look around the room I can see panic in some of the women’s eyes as they realize they can’t think of the last time they felt this way.
The truth is that for most moms with small children, these moments are all too few and far between.
And according to scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “cheeks sent me high”), these moments, which he calls “flow,” are extremely important to our happiness and wellbeing. Athletes often call it being “in the zone.” In the Christian world we sometimes call it kairos, qualitative rather than quantitative time, moments when God reaches into us or meets us in a profound way, moments that pull us out of chronos, or quantitative time. Moments of flow aren’t always easy to come by, but they are spiritually refreshing, even essential.
For those of us with small children at home, however, such moments can feel unattainable because our children so often interrupt our focus. Sometimes my entire day feels like one long series of interruptions.
So how can parents (particularly stay-at-home parents) experience flow? Think of those things in your life that produced a sense of flow in the past and make sure to work them into your schedule. Some of my best times of flow come when I’m writing or editing, and I’m so wrapped up in the task at hand and the words on the screen that I forget what’s going on around me. Finding enough time to do this is not only challenging when you’re a parent of small children, it can be downright dangerous if you also need to be supervising small humans, so I normally save this kind of flow-inducing work for my kids’ naptimes or after their bedtimes or when someone else is caring for them. Some other flow-inducing tasks for me are walking, reading, and sometimes cooking or baking. I do find that I’m a lot happier and more peaceful in the rest of my day when I’ve been able to get caught up in something I really enjoyed this way.
But I’ve also learned to expand my ideas of flow. Flow doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Some of my most rewarding times of flow have been with my children. In fact, now when I close my eyes and think of when I experience flow or kairos my mind goes first to pushing one of my children on the swing in the park or reading books aloud together. Now, before you throw your phone across the playground, no, I certainly do not achieve this sense of flow every single time I push one of my children on a swing or read one of them a book. But in general, when I allow it, these activities are conduits to kairos.
The key phrase in that last sentence was “when I allow it” because a certain amount of intentionality is required. Flow never happens when I’m only halfway present with my children, thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner or loading the dishwasher or listening with half an ear to a podcast. Multitasking is the enemy of flow. Flow only happens for me when I’m doing one thing at a time. And because I always feel so overwhelmed with SO MANY things to do, doing only one thing at a time feels almost unnatural.
I’ve found, however, that it gets easier with practice. And in these moments I sometimes glimpse this truth: It’s not my kids who are the interruptions. My life with them is the real life, the important part. It’s the other stuff that’s interrupting.
I studied all the wrong things in school. Based on my daily life, I would have been much better off had I studied nursing, nutrition, defensive carpool driving, physical therapy, and child psychology. Some housecleaning and organization courses might also have come in handy.
Unfortunately, my degrees are in international relations, journalism, and theological studies. As a result I often feel like I spend most of my day doing things for which I am wholly unprepared.
Take some of today’s challenges: navigating the tiny lanes and aggressive, rage-filled parent drivers at summer camp dropoff and pickup, addressing my 2- 1/2 year-old daughter’s burgeoning smartphone addiction, helping my older son get back to full strength after a series of injuries to his left foot and leg, and beating back the chaos and disorder three kids home for the summer leave in their wake. I’ll be honest. I’m not very good at any of those things.
There are things in this world I can do well. It’s just that I don’t get to do them a lot these days. So even after almost twelve years of being a mom, I still often feel like I’m unprepared, that I’m not good enough at this job. And to make matters worse, just as I start to feel like I’ve mastered or at least become proficient at one part of parenting, another new challenge pops up.
I think many of us share this feeling, that we could be so much better at motherhood. We want to be better. But of course parenting is such an all-encompassing, round-the-clock job that it’s hard to find the time to step back and intentionally try to improve at any one aspect of it. This is one job that is pretty much limited to on-the-job training.
Yet my theological studies background does come in handy sometimes in daily life. It helps me see the larger importance of all the little things I do, even driving in that wretched carpool, because God cares about the tiniest details of our lives.
My faith helps me to recognize that doing things we don’t like, things that make us uncomfortable or that we don’t feel prepared for or good at, is how spiritual growth happens. God calls us to do all kinds of things we don’t think we’re ready to do. Take Moses. Or John the Baptist. Or Jesus. I could go on.
My faith tells me we can and do get better, that if we allow it, Christ can transform us day by day into the person, the parent, that we long to be.
My faith also helps me see that although there are many parts of motherhood in which I don’t feel proficient, there’s only one part of motherhood where that really, truly matters, and that’s loving my children. I do just fine at that. I’ll bet you do too.
This afternoon, my daughter and I were playing with Play-doh, and she asked me to make a pig. The object that I presented to her wasn’t a very good pig. Truth be told, she insisted that it wasn’t in fact a pig. Nevertheless, I think I can safely say that my lack of artistry did not dampen the fun of the moment for either of us.
Life might be easier or less stressful if I only had to do things I already felt good at, but perhaps it would be a little bit boring. It certainly wouldn’t allow as much space to learn and get better. Today, in addition to producing a pig-like creature, I managed the dropoff, I hid my smartphone, I did Pilates with my older son, and I picked up a lot of toys multiple times.
Tomorrow I will likely do many of the same things, maybe a little bit better. And while I may never feel like I’m really good at any of them, they certainly do get less daunting each time. I could be better, of course, but for today I am good enough.
“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. ” 2 Corinthians 4:16-17