The New God of Our Age

August 31st, 2012 by | Print

The dawning of a new school year has officially closed the book on the summer of 2012.  The summer was filled with lots of fun and memorable times but I find myself longing for a couple of more bonus weeks to enjoy many of the traditional summer activities I never got to this year.  Can anyone else relate?

If I could take a re-do on my summer then there would be way more relaxing by the pool, backyard BBQs, family bike rides, concerts in the park, camp fires, amusement park excursions, fishing off the dock, Tiger games, walks for ice cream, boat rides, etc.  This year, we didn’t do much of the normal family stuff that makes a summer in Michigan feel so special.

How did the summer tick away so fast?  It seems like the kids just got out of school the other day and now they’re back again.  As I reflected back on the summer, I quickly realized that it all came down to planning and priorities. 

Back in the spring, Kristie and I sat down with the calendar and all of the proposed activities to map out the summer.  The first thing we did was to pencil in all of the boys travel sports schedules…big mistake.  After three weekends of basketball and another three weekends of lacrosse, our first non-sports related weekend happened in August!  From there we squeezed in a family vacation, youth group camps, time with grandparents, drivers training & team practices.  But at the end of the day, sports gobbled up 80% of our summer weekends and we were exhausted! 

While I absolutely, positively love sports, I don’t want them to be the epicenter of my family life.  There’s no doubt that much of who I am today is because of what I’ve learned on the playing field, but I place a far greater value on faith, family, and service.  We are usually very intentional about keeping our priorities balanced but somehow the sports schedule took over this year.

I know I’m not alone in this struggle.  American families spend more time on the athletic field than any other recreational activity in our country.  It’s amazing how much of our family life (and money) is devoted to our kids sports.  There’s no doubt the cultural tide has turned and youth sports has become the new God of our age.  Heck, during our six summer weekends of sports we didn’t make it to church one time.  How did my priorities get so out of whack?

Now, if I’m completely honest, I know there’s an unhealthy part of me that drives some part of my ego through my kids’ sports accomplishments.  I know my kids’ sports statistics should have zero impact on my mood, self-esteem or parenting.  It’s hard to admit this, but to some degree, their performance does impact me.  If my boys get more points or hits or tackles or goals, I generally stand a little taller that day (and I’m sure they can feel my approval).  Yuck!

This is not the kind of man or father I want to be.  I know there’s a broken part inside of me that’s slowly healing.  At the end of the day, I need to value my children for their own unique talents, gifts and individual spirits.  And I need to have my own passions, hope and dreams that are separate from theirs.

Turning the Light On

Immediately after I wrote the personal reflection above, I headed out to my 9th grade son’s tennis match.  By nothing short of a divine appointment, I sat next to a mom from the opposing team.  Every time her son hit a bad shot she sighed, gasped or banged the bleachers.  She literally made comments like “what the hell was that” and “get your head in the game”.  You could feel the tension – from both mother and son.  He kept looking over at her and scowling.   

When the first set was finished, the son came over to her and said “mom, I think you need to leave”.  The mom asked why and he said “because you’re scaring the hell out of me”.    She didn’t acknowledge his comments and went on about how bad he was playing.  He walked away in disgust.

The mom turned to me for some reassurance and asked “it’s good for them to feel a little pressure, right?”  She asked the wrong person.  I responded by saying “quite frankly, no, I don’t think so”.  I gave my observation that her son seemed completely freaked out by her negativity and was playing poorly as a result.  Needless to say, she was shocked at my blunt response.  I asked her to take a look at his slouched body language, contorted facial expressions and quick glances toward her at every missed point.  To her credit, she took a step back, watched with a different set of eyes and then completely agreed with me! 

I asked if her husband puts a lot of pressure on her son and she said “Ohmygosh, he’s ten times worse than me, he played college tennis, and built a court for him in the backyard”.  I encouraged her to work on becoming an emotional support to her son because all young men need to have somebody in their corner.  To her credit, she immediately changed her disposition and started encouraging him along.  You could see the spring in his step almost immediately and his play improved dramatically.

After the match was finished, I suggested my Man Quest book as a good resource for engaging with teenage boys and I wished her well.  She thanked me for “turning on the light” for her.  I chuckled because I know that I have to make sure to heed my own advice.

 Parental Reflection Questions:

1)      How much does youth sports/activities control our family calendar? Is that ok?

2)      When watching youth sports/activities am I enjoying myself or completely stressed out? What’s the source of the stress?

3)      How do I respond to my child when they don’t perform well?  Do I communicate my critique in an appropriate way?

4)      What does it feel like for my child to have me on the sidelines during a competition or performance? Encouraging? Stressful? Embarrassing?

5)      How much of my parental love, attention and affection is tied into my kids success (athletic, academic, activities, etc.)?

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