I have three kids who play sports. I love watching them compete and I’m very involved, but I’m not one of those parents living vicariously through my kids’ sports … Or at least I didn’t think I was, until recently.
I am not chasing unrealized sports dreams. I don’t fantasize it’s me out there scoring the winning basket. I am not overindulgent or overprotective of my kids, I don’t scream at them when they make mistakes. Watching other parents behave like that at sporting events always seemed so absurd to me and I was certain I was nothing like them. Then while reading a self-help type book about living in the moment, something I need to work on as my head is always in a million places, something happened that took my breath away. I realized I actually AM living vicariously through them; I just didn’t know it because it presented itself differently than I expected. You see, it’s not that I want to do what they are doing, but their sports were giving me highs and lows and sensations, almost like some sort of drug!
The purpose of the exercise from the book Mindfulness, A Practical Guide, by Tessa Watt that lead to my enlightenment, is to become self-aware, to sit with and recognize and name the feelings and sensations you have in your body as you’re having them. Your brain can talk you in and out of a lot of things, but your body can’t lie – your breathing, what’s happening in your stomach and the sensations you get – good and bad – are very revealing.
I worked on doing this. Since I spend a heck of a lot of that time on practice fields and at games watching my kids play, that is where I discovered an ugly truth about my sports parenting. I suddenly recognized that when my kids were playing a game, I was feeling the same as though I was the one playing. (Insert appropriate emoji here!) Prior to game time, I could feel myself getting excited and having a giddy feeling as game time got closer. I was nervous, jittery, my stomach was doing somersaults. This was the anticipation, the buildup, “looking to “score the next fix.” The drug was the game itself, sometimes it was a good high and sometimes it was a bad high. When my kid played well, I felt good, I was nicer, I felt more in control. But when my kid played poorly, I could feel myself becoming agitated and cranky.
Looking back, I have been after that “high” now for a while. Watching practices, training sessions, clinics, you name it, just hoping for a little tiny taste of that feeling again. Game Time, now that was the Motherlode! I almost never missed a game, even when work and other responsibilities should have been number one, the game, and finding my next “fix” took priority. Even on those rare occasions when for some reason I was forced to miss an event, I would constantly be looking at my phone for the time, anticipating the game starting and checking feverishly for texts – updates from my husband or the other parents as to what was happening in the game and how my kid was playing. I’m not sure when it happened, but it had become about me and not them.
I have been in sports parent rehab now for several months, which has focused around not attending practices on a regular basis and not choosing their games over all else in my life. Although I still love to go and do go often, I pay attention to what I’m feeling and keep myself in check. I remind myself I’m there to support, not to get a cheap thrill. It’s not about me, it’s about them. I am choosing balance! And if I start to slip and feel those old sensations coming back, I remind myself that this is their journey, not mine, and that their wins and losses and failures and successes belong exclusively to them and I can no longer live vicariously through them for the highs or the lows!