By Alex Flanagan
I decided to boycott taking my son to soccer practice today. Not because I didn’t want him to go, but because I have to correct the huge parenting mistake I’ve made before it’s too late.
In my opinion, having a parent that signs you up for activities you want to do, buys you all the equipment required for those activities and schlepps you to and from them multiple times a week is a privilege. My son wasn’t treating it like one and instead seemed to have me confused with a personal chauffeur. But here’s the thing. It’s 100 percent my own fault.
You see, I grew up on a ranch close to the Mexican border in a one-stop-sign town called Sonoita, Arizona My mom ran the ranch and the family restaurant. My dad drove 60 miles each way to work every day in Tucson. Our extracurricular activities were taking care of cattle, showing cattle, feeding cattle and 4-H. Unlike my siblings, I didn’t get great joy out of the animal activities. I had terrible allergies and DREAMED of being a swimmer, a tennis player, a dancer or a gymnast. I wanted to play the guitar and become an actress. When I would take my cow to a show I would also bring the family mini-cam and create videos, or as my kids call them now-a-days, vlogs. When I was 12-years-old I won a John Casablanca modeling agency contest I had entered after being recruited at the mall and was asked to go to New York for the next stage of the competition. My mom’s response was, “um, N-O. You are twelve, you’re not going to NYC.”
Another summer I stayed with my cousin in Phoenix and went to swim team practice with her for two weeks. The coach thought I had potential; he called my mom to tell her she should consider putting me on a swim team. Her reply: “How am I supposed to do that? We live on a ranch. There isn’t a swimming pool here.”
In her defense, she had her hands full. I am one of 6 kids. Along with taking care of us, running the ranch and the restaurant, she was responsible for helping her own aging parents who lived across the highway from us. She had a menagerie of cats, dogs, birds, cows and horses … so there were plenty of animal options to keep us busy. … I tried. One year I got a puppy and did dog obedience 4-H classes and competed in the dog show at the county fair. I raised steers, but taking care of them for an entire year, only to be forced to eat what we raised was traumatic. I often wonder what kind of success I might have had if my parents had given me more support.
So when I had kids of my own, I did the complete opposite of my mom. I signed up for every Mommy and Me, Music Together, peewee soccer, t-ball, and Kyndergym class I could find. It was great. I was giving my kids access to all of the opportunities I didn’t have. They were going to be so grateful. And it was going to be so good. But that’s not what happened. Instead the more I did, the less appreciative they were and the madder I became.
“Mom, why are you late” they’d scold me when I arrived 5 minutes after practice finished to pick them up. Or call me from the school office prompting me, “quick mom! HURRY. Get in the car and bring me my shin guards to school, I left them at home.” And so I did. Until today when my son reprimanded me for prioritizing my job over his soccer practice as if it should be obvious to both of us that paying bills and answering an urgent work email wasn’t nearly as important as getting out the door on time to spend the next 3 hours of my afternoon driving kids to their after school activities. It was a huge aha moment … well actually I freaked out. I had made everything so easy and accessible for my son that I had robbed him of 2 critical characteristics –motivation and appreciation. It had to be fixed.
So I sat back down at my desk and went back to work.
“MOM!! Let’s go! I’m going to be late,” my son yelled as he ran into my office puzzled by why I had settled into my chair. “Come here,” I said calmly while I pulled him in close and looked him in the eyes. “We aren’t going to practice today,” I said. “WHAT!!!” he started to cry as he threatened, “You are going to get in trouble!” I continued in my trying-to-be-a-teacher voice, “Your mom is a busy person, with a job and a lot of responsibilities. I LOVE watching you play and taking you to soccer and all of your sports. I never got to do that when I was a kid, because my mom didn’t have time and a lot of kids in this world don’t get to do all of the incredible activities you are so blessed to get to do.” I continued. “Playing soccer and Friday Night Lights football and Junior Dunkers basketball and Little League is a huge privilege and until you treat it as such I’m not going to take you to practice. Do you understand?” I asked. “Yes,” he said under his breath with tears streaking down his face. “Ok then. You can go to your room now.” I excused him, knowing that my boycott had sent a message. But that if I wanted it to have a lasting impact, it was going to be on me. I needed to stop overcompensating for the youth sports career I never got.
Alex Flanagan co-founded I love to watch you play in 2015. She was flying home from an NFL work assignment when a learning specialist, who was sitting next to her, shared 5 reasons she shouldn’t feel guilty missing her son’s game. She shared their conversation on her own website alexflanagan.com and the response was so overwhelming it inspired her to create ILTWYP to help parents like herself navigate youth sports.