Babble has teamed up with ESPN’s Sage Steele, host of NBA Countdown and mom of three, for Harder Right, Easier Wrong, a series about the tough choices parents face every day. Big or small, win or loss, your experiences matter, because when it comes to raising kids, we’re all in this together.
As you might expect, I know a lot about sports. Basketball, football, track & field, volleyball — you name it. Partly because it’s my job as a sportscaster to know at least a little bit about a lot of sports, but mainly because I absolutely love it!
I grew up in an uber-athletic, sports-obsessed family with two brothers, so being around and playing sports was just a way of life in the Steele household. But when it came to parenting, one of the many things Mona and Gary Steele did so well was to make sure to “stay in their lanes” and let the coaches coach. That’s why, with my own three kiddos, I was sure it would be easy not to become “that parent” — that overbearing, domineering, know-it-all mom — because I had great examples of how to do it the right way.
So in 2010 when I finally gave in to my then-8-year-old daughter begging me to let her ride horses, “just like you do, Mommy,” not only was I thrilled that we would be able to have some mother-daughter bonding time, I was excited that my lifelong involvement with equestrian sports might allow me to help her if she ever needed it.
In the five years since, I’m happy to report that Quinn hasn’t needed much help from yours truly, although my knowledge of the sport has definitely helped in some ways. I knew which equipment was necessary, I knew how to choose the right trainer for her, and I knew from the very first moment she sat on a pony and began instinctively trotting around the arena, that she had talent. Some legitimate, God-given ability.
But the last two Sundays have been challenging. Although Quinn rode well at both horse shows, she didn’t finish as well as she would have liked and was disappointed that (different) judges placed her fifth in back-to-back weeks. I was absolutely heartbroken for her because she had been working so hard, and like her mother, Quinn really beats herself up when she doesn’t WIN, or at least feel like she did her best.
Here’s the thing: I knew why the judges made the decisions they did. So, I hugged her, told her I thought she did great and that I was so proud of her no matter what! I then began to tell her in a nice, positive way, why she was given a not-so-pretty pink ribbon (her words) instead of a brilliant blue ribbon. I’m a mom! I want to fix everything! I want to help her!
But immediately, I noticed Quinn’s expression change. When I asked her what was wrong, she simply said, “No offense, Mommy, but I really don’t want to hear any of that from you.”
Dagger. She couldn’t have been nicer and more polite about it — she was just being honest, something I’ve always strongly encouraged. But when she said that, my heart skipped a beat as a pang of guilt came over me. “Okay! No worries!” I quickly responded, and seconds later, friends came over to hug her and the moment was gone.
But I couldn’t get her reaction out of my head. All I could think was that I was being “that parent” without even realizing it, even though I had the best of intentions. As I replayed the scene in my mind over and over and over again in the next few days, I knew that I was just trying to help my girl, trying to make her feel better, which I figured I could do by telling her that her mistakes were easily fixable. But was that the right thing to do? Did Quinn need to hear advice from me, at that particular moment? Or, did she really just need me to be mom?
Exactly one week later, unfortunately, the result of her final class of the day was the same. That not-so-pretty pink 5th place ribbon. Afterwards, I did the same thing: I hugged her, told her I thought she did great and that I was proud of her. But here’s what I DIDN’T do this time: immediately offer her my opinion on why she didn’t do better. As they say in TV land, I just “laid out.” And funnily, it’s almost as if Quinn was waiting for me to break down her ride again, because she was looking at me out of the corner of her eye, without saying a word.
So I smiled at her, repeated that I was so proud of how she kept her poise when she knew her round wasn’t going well, and I actually STOPPED TALKING (difficult for someone who gets paid to talk!).
Instead, I told Quinn to let me know if she wants to hear some of my thoughts later that night or in the coming days. Or, never. Her reaction? A huge smile, a quick hug, and then wide-open arms as her friends approached to cheer her up, as only 13-year-old girls can do for each other.
That moment was another reminder that sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, despite the fact that what we say really could help our kids experience success sooner rather than later — success that us parents so badly want for them — it’s actually all about if and when THEY are ready to hear it. There’s absolutely no excuse for being “that parent” because all our kids want, is to know that we are proud of them and we will be there for them, no matter what. Win or lose. Then maybe, just maybe, that pink ribbon will look a little prettier after all.
Each week, we’re asking parents to share some moments when they were faced with a tough parenting choice. Big or small, win or loss, your experiences matter and we want to hear them, because truly – we’re all in this together.
What was one of your parenting wins, big or small, from the past week?
Share your answer on Twitter with #HarderRight and your response could be featured in an upcoming post on Babble.