Saturday, September 24, 2011

Being a "Giving Tree"

   When I was a young parent, reading Shel Silverstein's "Giving Tree" always made me cry. Now, it makes me mad. By way of explanation, here is a Wikiquote on the  book's interpretation:
 "Ever since the book was published, it has generated controversy and opposing opinions for its interpreted messages on whether the tree is selfless or merely self-sacrificing, and whether the boy is selfish or reasonable in his demands of the tree. The story clearly shows childhood as being a time of relative happiness in comparison to the sacrifice and responsibility of adulthood."

Yeah, right.

   I guess I've become a cynic in my later years because I've heard so many parents in so many rinks and at so many competitions saying to their skaters, "Look what I've given up for you. At least you can go out there and try." I just heard it again last week at a small non-qualifying competition while the not-even eight year old pre-juv skater sat sobbing in the stands after skating her heart out but falling three times in her program. It made me wonder how long she will stay in the sport, and what these words were doing to her self esteem. I suspect she'll quit. I hope she becomes a psychologist and not an ax murderer.
   So, for what it's worth here's my take on it: We all give things up for competitive skating. Some give up more than others; it comes with the territory. Parents who use the "Look what I've given up" line as a weapon need to step back and examine their behavior - and the reasons behind it. Most likely, they got their kid into the sport in the first place. If their personal dreams of a  "Gilt Trip" have not met or exceeded expectations, quickly it turns into a guilt trip and a familiar skating cry of "Why me??!!" 
   Why you? Take a good, long look in the nearest mirror and ask that question. Who's reflection is looking back? Is it you or your skater festooned in medals standing atop an Olympic or World podium smiling and mouthing "Thanks Mom!"
   I am not saying that parents are the only ones who are manipulative. Oh no! Take another sobbing young skater in the stands who will only be consoled by a new practice dress, sweater or warm ups. The "self-sacrificing" parent dutifully follows the skater to the vendor booths, credit card in hand, because buying something more will make it all better, and the next skate - in a new outfit - will be perfect.
   So, how do you balance all this? I don't know. I wasn't successful all of the time and you won't be either. My point is to take a look at behavior; take a look at motive. It's tough to really step back and see the "why," but if every once in awhile you can, it will make this journey so much better for everyone. After all, when it's over you don't want to be stumped as to why it all happened in the first place.


  1. Great parenting advice for any sport.

  2. Great reminders for parents (and great plays-on-words, too)!

  3. Very good advice!

    Me? I tell my kids that I'm no martyr. I'll gladly support them in their efforts - sports, school, hobby - but that I'm responsible for making sure they learn other things tangential to the activity, i.e., if you sign up for a team sport, you need to show up at practices and games, even on the days you don't feel like it and give it your best effort. I'm responsible for teaching them what "commitment" means and how to be responsible for their role in an activity.

    Even with skating as a more solo effort for singles skaters, you show up for your lessons, or else you call the coach and you earn the money to pay for the missed lesson. Things like that (for kids above a certain age, of course.)

    The only time I'll admit to pulling a guilt trip is when I've shelled out money or given up sleeping in to get a kiddo to the ice (or soccer field, or scout meeting, etc.), and they pull a tantrum of any sort. I understand good and bad days. But too many tantrum days, and there will be consequences of some sort. I *might* even impress upon kiddo that everything beside school and chores are optional, and I'm not going too far out of my comfort/leisure zone to support a kid in an activity when they aren't going to try their best on a fairly regular basis. Those actions speak louder than words.