Latest Chart: Parents, dig in your heels!

April 12, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

In movies about struggles between tweens and their parents, the director usually includes a few showdowns. These can either be staring matches between the kids and the grownups or heated words exchanged. There’s almost always some sort of resolution (positive or negative) toward the end of the story.

The director never shows the agonizing days and hours in between showdowns. I guess it doesn’t make for as compelling viewing. Even if we watch a moving picture medium to be informed, ultimately we also want something that takes us away from reality.

In real life sometimes the showdowns end in a satisfying resolution for the parents, sometimes not. Case in point for the former: Ten’s soccer playing. She’s always harbored an interest in the sport, kicking the ball around in the back yard, watching the World Cup last year with fascination and eagerness, insisting that we sign her up to join the soccer team at school.

The school soccer season goes for around seven weeks in the fall. When Ten first asked to sign up for soccer, it was springtime more than two years ago. Soccer at school had ended, but our park district had just begun signups for their teams. What if I signed her up for the park district soccer program?

She came back with a resounding no. She didn’t want to play for anyone else. Only the school team. We discussed it, argued about it, butted heads on it. I’m not necessarily proud of this, but in the end she wore me down and I agreed. She wouldn’t sign up for the park district soccer team.

I could only argue with this child so many times. There are other things the kids need to do and so many other things I want to do. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to drill down into every issue the kids and I disagree about. Some are essential to daily life and how they shape up as people; some are not.

Of course, this adamant stance against the park district soccer program didn’t curb Ten’s complaints that she didn’t get to play soccer. This child is old enough and mature enough to understand the progression of time. She got the fact that (by this time) with school out for the summer, there would be no school soccer. Like an irrational two-year-old, however, she continued to complain that she didn’t get any time on a field in a formal capacity.

At one point, my husband and I discussed the topic more than we discussed our retirement plans. Should we force Ten to play for the park district? Should we let her wait until school started? Should we encourage her to focus her energy somewhere else?

Eventually we decided to butt heads with our younger child yet again. This time, however, we would hold firm. She wanted to play soccer? She had to play for the park district when the school soccer season was off-cycle.

With plenty of exaggerated sighs and eye-rolls (and at one point literally dragging her feet as we got ready to leave,) Ten agreed. Well, she didn’t agree so much as just give in. This time we wore her down.

Do we sound like horrible parents for forcing our child to do something she expressed in no uncertain terms she absolutely does not want to do?

I don’t know yet. Even though I was one of those parents doing the forcing, I’m still trying to answer the question. Moreover, I’m trying to understand what that answer means for the future.

A few weeks ago, Ten got ready for her first soccer practice. Her dad took her, and I took Twelve to a school function. Halfway through the function I realized it had begun raining. Hard. As in, pouring. I immediately had two thoughts.

Ten’s going to be incredibly upset at getting all wet and probably muddy.

Ten’s going to be thrilled at practicing soccer in the downpour.

When she came home, her mile-wide grin told me which thought proved true.

All complaints about joining the park district’s soccer program washed into the city storm drains with the rain that night. Ten took a hairpin turn and couldn’t stop talking about the coach, about her excitement, about getting ready for her first match. The only semi-negative factor she could find was that she didn’t know any of the girls on the team. A few of them have played together before, and she felt a little left out.

Well, then, we told her, try to talk to some of the girls. Try to become friends with them. You have to get to know them, because a soccer team works best on the herd mentality, which works best when everyone knows everyone else.

Yesterday when Ten clamored into the car after practice, the first thing out of her mouth was, “I made a new friend on the team today.” She chattered the entire way home about her teammates, the one she got to know a little bit yesterday, and how that girl was friends with two of the other teammates Ten had gotten to know. Today on the way to her cello lesson, she said, “I’m so excited about the events of yesterday that they’ll get me through cello today.”

Her cello lessons are the other active area of a showdown with her. The thing is, she’s good at the cello. She jokes around with her cello teacher. She gives her classmates excellent suggestions during their critique time in their group lessons. She even offered to play the cello in the small band she’s formed with some of her friends and practices music for the band songs.

At one point, Ten admitted that the real problem she had with the cello was the lack of freedom. She’s still learning many of the essentials to playing the instrument, so she can’t experiment much. Her teacher, by the way, has given her considerable leeway in this area. When she tells him that she’s spent part of her week practicing her band music and less time on the music he’s assigned, he doesn’t bat an eye. He just requests in a gentle manner that she pay attention to her assignments too.

We convinced her with soccer to trust our judgment, and now she’s eager to pull on her cleats before every practice. My hope, truly, is that she’ll trust our judgment on the cello too. Maybe, years from now, we’ll be able to laugh over these showdowns, and I’ll get to gloat—just a little, mind you—that we won both of them.

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