Editor's note: This post by Rachel Macy Stafford originally appeared on her blog, Hands Free Mama. It has been reprinted here with permission.
Very rarely does one sentence have immediate impact on me.
Very rarely does one sentence change the way I interact with my family.
But this one did. It was not from Henry Thoreau or some renowned child psychologist. It was a comment from kids themselves. And if I've learned anything on this "Hands Free" journey, it is that children are the true experts when it comes to "grasping what really matters."
Here are the words that changed it all:
" ... College athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame. Their overwhelming response: 'I love to watch you play.'"
The life-changing sentence came at the beginning of an article entitled "What Makes a Nightmare Sports Parent and What Makes a Great One," which described powerful insights gathered over three decades by Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC. Although I finished reading the entire piece, my eyes went back and searched for that one particular sentence — the one that said, "I love to watch you play."
I read it exactly five times. And then I attempted to remember all past verbal interactions I had with my kids at the conclusion of their extracurricular activities.
Upon completion of a swim meet, a music recital, a school musical, or even a Sunday afternoon soccer game, had I ever said, "I like to watch you play"?
I could think of many occasions when I encouraged, guided, complimented, and provided suggestions for improvement. Did that make me a nightmare sports parent? No, but maybe sometimes I said more than was needed.
By nature, I am a wordy person — wordy on phone messages (often getting cut off by that intrusive beep) and wordy in writing (Twitter is not my friend).
And although I have never really thought about, I'm pretty sure I'm wordy in my praise, too. I try not to criticize, but when I go into extensive detail about my child's performance it could be misinterpreted as not being "good enough."
Could I really just say, "I love to watch you play" and leave it at that? And if I did, would my children stand there cluelessly at the next sporting event or musical performance because I had failed to provide all the "extra details" the time before?
Well, I would soon find out. As luck would have it, my 8-year-old had a swim meet the day after I read the article.
Her first event was the 25-yard freestyle. At the sound of the buzzer, my daughter exploded off the blocks and effortlessly streamlined beneath the water for an unimaginable amount of time. Her sturdy arms, acting as propellers, emerged from the water driving her body forward at lightning speed. She hadn't even made it halfway down the lane when I reached up to wipe away one small tear that formed in the corner of my eye.
Since my oldest daughter began swimming competitively two years ago, I have ALWAYS had this same reaction to her first strokes in the first heat. I cry and turn away so no one sees my blubbering reaction.
I cry not because she's going to come in first.
I cry not because she's a future Olympian or scholarship recipient.
I cry because she's healthy; she's strong; she's capable.
And I cry because I love to watch her swim.
Oh my. Those six words ...
I love to watch her swim.
I had always FELT that way — tearing up at every meet, but I hadn't said it in so many words ... or should I say, in so few words.
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