We got all the gear — shin guards, cleats and size 3 soccer balls — for my four-year old twins, who joined the City of Rockville’s soccer league this spring. We couldn’t have been more excited. Our babies had enrolled in their first organized “competitive’ sport (no one keeps score at their age), and both were assigned to a neighborhood team called the Superheroes. The blue jerseys they received, with their numbers on the backs, made it official.
That meant that we needed to commit to a weekly practice and Sunday games, which we were happy to do. At their first game we brought the folding chairs, cameras and snacks, and we marked this milestone on various social media channels to alert our friends and family that we had became soccer parents.
This sounds so magical, so suburban, so American dream-ish, no? Well, not quite. We faced a big hurdle. A few weeks into the season our daughter lost interest. She refused to go to practice. That resulted in lots of negotiating, dragging and eventually bribing. We promised we would get her a nice treat if she participated in the practice (feel free to judge me). “I’m tired,” “I’m cold,” “I hate soccer” were her protests on practice days.
When it was time for the games, she stood idle in the middle of the field with a princess crown on her head, observing everyone as she sucked on her index finger. She didn’t dribble, run or kick. She just watched the kids from both teams fight over the ball and try to score.
Meanwhile, her brother flourished. My hyperactive boy, who never sits down, found himself on the soccer field. It gave him an outlet for all his energy and helped him focus. At the games, he dribbled, passed and even scored (although a couple of those goals were in his own team’s net). Soccer tamed him and allowed him to shine.
One day while I was trying to convince my reluctant daughter to embrace the upcoming soccer practice, I ran out of tricks. Nothing was working, so I told her my soccer story. I loved soccer. While growing up in Jordan, I was obsessed with the game and passionately followed the World Cup, the European Cup and the Arab Cup. I played soccer in the streets with the neighborhood kids. I liked being the goalie and I broke a couple of fingers trying to protect that net.
It all stopped, though, when I got older and the sight of a teenage girl showing clear signs of puberty irked the neighbors, who called my mom. “Come get your daughter, she is playing soccer in the street with the boys,” they told her. My mom obliged and pulled me out of the streets. Just like that my soccer career ended.
I relayed a toned-down version of the story to my daughter. I told her that she was lucky to get to play soccer and that even her coach was a woman, explaining that I was kept off the field because I was a girl. She asked me if those people who stopped me were bad people. “No, no,” I said. “Things were different back then, girls were not allowed to play soccer. Now they can. There are soccer teams in Jordan now.” I explained how fortunate she is and that she should be grateful.
That didn’t work. She still fussed and resisted going to practice. A few days later, her dad reported that she told him girls are not good at soccer, that soccer is for boys. I realized then that my conversation with her about my childhood might have done more harm than good. I stopped pressuring her and decided to just muddle through until the end of the season.
We recently had our last practice. All the kids received certificates of participation, along with frozen treats. While enjoying her snack and chatting with another girl on her team, my daughter said, “I love soccer.” No surprise, here. Kids, as we all know, like to mess with our minds (though I’m blaming the sugar here). At the last game, to our surprise, she scored (although in her own team’s net) and was more engaged than ever.
Looking back, I realize I came away from all of this with more questions than answers:
- Is living vicariously through your kids really a bad thing? Don’t parents deserve to get some joy from seeing kids achieve our unfulfilled dreams?
- At what point do we allow kids to give up and decide that they don’t like an activity? Aren’t we supposed to encourage them to succeed? Do we actually let them call the shots? Are we so worried about being perceived as pushy that we capitulate to our kids’ whims?
- Are we harming our kids by letting their self-doubt take over? Is my daughter really not interested in soccer, or does she doubt her abilities as a girl and think soccer is a better fit for boys? If I pull her out of soccer, am I reinforcing a perceived gender stereotype?
So many questions, and I don’t have the answers. All I know is that parents sometimes don’t know what we are doing. We wing it. The majority of us try our best. We fail sometimes and fall on our heads, but we get up and keep going because their happiness is our drive.
Natasha Tynes is a Jordanian-American communications professional based in Washington, D.C. You can read her thoughts on parenting, digital media and the Middle East on her website, and you can also follow her on Twitter.
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