Carrying the Load

I’m bothered… and burdened. Sometimes I worry that we’re pushing our kids too hard not merely to succeed, but to actually be the BEST. To be the number one, first place, all-star president valedictorian winner. What I’m about to write here has the potential to rub some parents the wrong way, though that’s not my intention at all. I would only hope to prompt some introspection into our parenting. Are we doing more harm than good for our children?

As some of you know, my daughter Ivey just learned that she has a stress fracture in her L5. A bone scan and CT this past week showed that the right side of her L5 was fractured some time ago and is now sclerosing. The left side is on the very verge of breaking. We were told that in order to keep that from happening, she can do absolutely nothing but walk for the next three months. She can’t even ride a stationary bike. If you know Ivey, you can imagine how devastating that was for her to hear, especially right here at the dawn of her cheerleading team’s competition season.

Several times between that day and now, I’ve thought, “My fifteen-year-old has a broken back. She’s fifteen. Fifteen!” I suffered my first and only stress fracture in my right foot at age thirty-eight – purely as a consequence of vigorous overuse. I ran close to forty miles a week and taught anywhere from 3-6 fitness classes in addition to that. When I think about that now, I feel like I DESERVED that injury! What the heck was I thinking, killing myself like that? It’s a wonder I didn’t do far worse damage to my bones and joints. I still run about that much, but I no longer teach. And even though that’s still a lot, my feet are thanking me for the cutback. At the time, I put a lot of pressure on myself to work out enough to maintain the level of fitness I had acquired. In fact, giving myself a rest day was never a part of the equation – which, of course, was stupid. So now that Ivey has a stress fracture in her spine, I can’t help but conclude that she must have been killing herself too. And worse, I question whether I was the one pushing her to work that hard.

Coincidentally, this past week a fellow mom in our neighborhood posted on Facebook about her disdain over how much homework her 7th grader is doing each night. Emma is in that child’s class, so I knew exactly what she was talking about. There were several nights this week that Emma stayed up until midnight or later doing math, which did not go over very well with me. I felt compelled to chime in on the conversation and agree with the mom, as did several other mothers who were upset about the amount of homework given. I felt very affirmed when other parents agreed that this is way too much for seventh grade. Shockingly, though, there were other moms who thought the amount of homework was not only fine, but even necessary. They feel that their children need to be adequately prepared for high school, college, and the world… while still in the 7th grade. It blew my mind and made me angry.

While I was judging those moms both in my mind and out loud to my husband, I thought again about Ivey’s injury, and about other kids Ivey’s age who’ve already undergone surgeries from sports related injuries. I couldn’t help but wonder if we parents have a problem. When did it become okay for us to subject our kids to such a ridiculous and even dangerous amount of work just so they can be considered a competitor?? What more would we need to subject them to in order for them to actually win at something? It makes me really sad. Don’t misunderstand – I am all for helping our kids become good at something, whether it be academics, music, sports or anything else. But are we actually helping them? Is it possible that we’re setting a standard that is too high for a child or teenager to achieve? Could it be that maybe, as parents, having a kid who isn’t a champion at something might make us feel inadequate? Like if they don’t measure up, we must not measure up, either? I had to ask myself those questions and more. I have a kid with a broken back, after all.

When I think back to my childhood, I don’t have any memories of being too busy. I played softball for nine years or so, and then when I started high school, I became a cheerleader. I also took piano lessons and sang in youth choir at church. That was my life in a nutshell. Maybe I’m misremembering a little bit, but I’m fairly positive that I never felt any pressure from my parents to be anything but a “good girl.” They never pushed me hard to be the best at anything, but they definitely encouraged me do what was right and what made me happy. I don’t remember them pressuring me to go to a certain college, to make all A’s, to be the star soloist, to wear a certain size, or to make all-stars. They wanted me to pursue the things I wanted to pursue, and to make godly decisions in the process. I’ve often wondered how I would’ve turned out if they had pushed me harder. Maybe I would’ve made better grades, or maybe I would have been a better athlete. I don’t know. I do know that I’m now living a life I’ve always dreamed of living, which is to be married and a mother. And I thank God for that every day. Any pressure I feel or have ever felt in terms of succeeding comes only from me.

To be perfectly transparent, as a mom I’m often torn between wanting my own kids to be the big standouts and wanting them to just do what makes them happy. Even though I think I turned out okay, I have to take into account that my children are growing up in a community where the talent standard is set super high. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every kid I know is so good at something, or some are good lots of things. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of us parents feel pressured to pressure our kids. But at the end of the day, we simply have to ask, “What is this all for?” What will Ivey have gained if she can do a standing full now but suffers chronic back pain at age thirty-five as a result? Or what if Johnny Jones makes a 35 on his ACT and graduates with a 4.0 from college, but fights an addiction to alcohol or drugs as an adult in order to cope with the pressure? How much will it mean for Freddie Football to say he was the star QB in high school if he can’t even put his kids on his shoulders as an adult because it hurts too much? We have to maintain some perspective on the matter since our kids can’t possibly have it for themselves.

I think it’s fair to say that, along with Lee and myself, every mom and dad I know is doing the best they know how to do for their children. I’m convinced there is no harder job than parenting, and in no way is it for the faint of heart. I say all the time that I could never raise five children without God’s grace! Having balance in our lives and in our homes is not an easy achievement, but it’s one that we all need to strive for. Our kids are kids. They are individuals, not an extension of us. Let’s seek God’s wisdom, not man’s approval, when considering how many activities we should sign them up for and how high of a standard we should set for their performance. They only get one childhood! I pray fervently that my own kids will look back on theirs and have nothing but wonderful memories. As a mom, I also pray I will look back on their childhood and have very few regrets.

Gal 6:4
Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.