The pressure to perform is enormous. Daunting. Driving. Exhausting. Yet, the competition is sized up, comparisons on technique scrutinized and on we go.
Volumes and volumes have been written. It seems there’s a new study out every day to keep us up on the latest, best and most proven course to success. Manuals, advisors, periodicals, videos, you name it, all at our disposal.
We can do it!
And so we try, giving our blood, sweat, tears, and fears to perform the role of Parent.
Once I became a mom, I soon discovered a class of women I nicknamed the Mommy Olympians. It seemed appropriate.
These were the moms who put their still in-utero kids on waiting lists for the top preschools and for whom What to Expect Your First Year is considered the Bible and memorized verbatim.
They had every developmental step recorded with a notary; every dietary change qualified, and pureed their own baby food—kept frozen in plastic ice cube trays—to adhere to an all-organic diet.
Their kids were not only slathered in sun block at the playground, but also had post-play wipe downs with anti-bacterial cleanser.
I quickly learned not to mention that our daughter was sleeping in our bed or actually enjoying her store-bought jar baby food.
The great abyss of what I was doing wrong or hadn’t done right grew larger with every chat.
“Why are you tired?” the conversation would casually begin. I would dive in, sharing how my baby had finally fallen asleep, only quite late. On I would go, stroke by stroke, sharing how this time rocking hadn’t worked or how she’d woken up more times than usual.
The judges took note.
“ … and so I’m a little sleepy today,” I’d finish with a smile.
The score cards were grim. I was doing everything wrong, wrong, wrong according to the judges. No matter whether the topic was sleep, feeding, discipline, social play, or bowel movements—my technique was off.
I wasn’t being strong enough or hard enough or determined enough to succeed. Interspersed with the criticism were examples of how their junior Olympians slept all-night, even if they needed to cry for several hours to get there.
I heard award-winning examples of toddlers happily self-feeding asparagus and potty-trained by 20.6 months old.
Theirs was the technique that worked, building their child’s interdisciplinary skills, character and even motor and brain development. I was a mere amateur and for that my children would suffer.
Back to training for me.
Funny thing was, over time, I raised my head a bit and began to notice how their little future Rhodes Scholars were having raging tantrums, too, just like the other kids. Alright, my kids.
I would see thumbs being sucked, hair twisted and tired little eyes.
Could that be artificial coloring staining the corners of their mouths? Hmmm … might there be a level playing field after all?
I swore off the Mommy Olympians and thought this steroid-free approach to parenting would be healthiest. But it’s hard to ignore courtside scrutiny when you’ve got your eye on a toddler exhibiting a raging tantrum and feeling the heat of all eyes on YOU.
The looks. Oh man, the looks. Enough to deflate the fiercest competitor.
So, pressure’s on.
Here are the challenges:
- Can you squelch a tantrum in two seconds flat?
- How about without the bribe of M&Ms or a trip to Disneyland?
- Or, how do you un-suction wailing child from filthy floor and get arched body and all stiff appendages into his car seat without causing more commotion?
At the end of the day any off-court coaching and heckling is what’s remembered. Retreats offside are defeated and deflated.
Parenting is the Mt. Olympus of all endurance sports, even without the stress of fellow competitors sizing you up. It tests you physically, emotionally, psychologically, socially.
You may customize accordingly.
One minute you’re hurdling high above a sandbox crowded with toddlers to remove a small plastic thing from your baby’s mouth. The next you’re hoisting eight-ton bags of groceries and solid child in a precarious balancing act to the car, made that much more physically demanding if said child is asleep, thereby adding an additional 1,899 pounds to the exercise.
A chess game of wills and wants can command a full morning and then in a split-second you find yourself in a 100-yard sprint to the curb of a busy intersection, in heels.
But with practice comes mastery, such as my relaxed, but firm, body hold that allows you to calmly leave a bustling restaurant with a squirming child, a technique that I should teach the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team. Note to self: add to daily To-Do List, item 3,000,053-A.
But is this sport ever really mastered?
Do we ever find ourselves standing proudly on a platform knowing we’ve succeeded, our family beaming from the stands?
Perhaps, in the sport of parenting just coming to practice—especially after a taxing yesterday with wincing memories of fumbles and poor calculations and just trying to do better—means that you’ve succeeded.
And then there are those glorious, rejuvenating moments when little arms wrapped around your neck can make you feel just as victorious as any medal would, even an Olympic gold.