We have often heard that raising a child is a thankless job.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While gratitude may not be forthcoming in words, it can be felt and sensed when we raise a well-adjusted, happy child.  

I was once asked by a swimming psychologist, whom our team had hired to speak to the parents of our swimmers:  “What do you most want for your child?”  The answers stemmed from “a college scholarship” to “success” to “happiness.”  Since no one I ever knew made a living from swimming, and my swimmer spent countless hours in the pool training, and doing it voluntarily, I mostly wanted her to be happy.  After all, her chosen sport cost me much in terms of my own self-sacrifice.  There were five AM practices to which she had to be driven, and weekend-long swim meets sitting on hard bleachers, and $$$ spent on swim suits, goggles, transportation, travel, meals, and entry fees, not to mention the anxiety associated with it all.  

And her happiness weighed in at the top.  She loved the sport.  She was dedicated and committed to four seasons of training.  And I approached it all with a compassionate understanding that whatever became of it, she would never earn a dollar from her swimming.  It was a passion I could share and support and to which I could contribute, but the intrinsic value was hers alone.  Therefore, I wanted her to be happy with and in it.  

There is/was some gratitude we, as parents, felt toward the sport and toward our part in providing for our daughter (and son as well) the opportunity to do something that cost us in terms of both money and precious time.  It was also, as I look back, part of the many, many people and things that helped us to raise our child into the happy and conscious person she is today at age 36.  

When in the trenches of raising a child, it is often difficult to remember that she will grow up so quickly.  As young parents, everyone tells us that.  I wish I had a penny for every time someone said that to me, and likewise as often as I have said that to someone!  They grow up fast!!!  

Now I have grandchildren.  In particular, I have a grandson who is very athletic, reminding me a lot of his mother, who loved sport and the excitement of competing.  He has the very special advantage of being around sport-loving people, parents and grandparents, who teach, encourage, and support him in almost all sports.  He regularly attends sporting events, watches sporting events on television with his dad, and spends time with his grandparents throwing balls, batting, golfing, playing tennis, and you-name-it.  He takes swim lessons and soccer lessons, watches his dad play recreational volleyball, and enjoys physical activity that is beyond the realm even his mother knew as a child.  (And I thought we provided everything possible to her!)

I was with him over the weekend while his parents were away.  We played something almost non-stop during his waking hours.  We played baseball, (he loves to pitch as well as bat, so he shared both positions with me equally), volleyball, golf, and basketball (my favorite).  I noticed that he has some very strong feelings about “rules” and “rules of engagement.”  And he wants to win!  It even causes him some suffering when I don’t quite engage “properly” with him or when he does not exactly approve of how I tossed that pitch to him or how I managed to get around the bases before he was able to retrieve the ball and get me out.  

It got me to thinking about how I taught my own children to compete, win or lose, and to be happy with it.  This blog is not about how we teach sportsmanship or if we should or shouldn’t be that soccer mom who stands on the sidelines yelling at her kid to “kick the ball!”  We are all human and all come from different places with our own “stuff” that pretty much dictates how we parent/teach.  

What this is about is whether or not we “hear” our children speaking through words and behavior telling us where they are in terms of being happy…and whether our messages to them are that we want them to be happy.  

Happiness does not mean they win every race or beat every competitor.  Happy means that they love the competition regardless of the outcome.  It means that they relish the wins and learn from the losses.  They enjoy the training and the journey of constant improvement.  For me, that is why swimming was “gratitude” I could sense.  She swam against herself every time.  Her race was against her own best time.  Whether she won the race or not, she could look up at the clock and see her time and gauge her swim based upon her last best time.  That brought its own sense of accomplishment.  And it was a lifelong lesson for her that insinuates itself in her life to this day:  have I done my best?  Assessment time every time in everything she does.  Comparing herself, not to others, but to her own best.  And I often see a smile slip across her face when she tells me about something she’s done or some part of her daily journey that makes her particularly happy.  

And for me, that’s a happy moment, too.  

I was watching Daniel Tiger on PBS this weekend with my grandson.  The lesson was about catching a ball.  As you may know if you have any young people around who enjoy Daniel Tiger, he teaches a lesson and sings it in song.  Daniel was learning to catch a ball.  It was quite the difficult endeavor for him since he dropped it or missed it every time.  He was advised to keep his eye on the ball, catching it, and then giving it a hug (in order to secure it and not drop it).  He finally got the knack of it and was quite satisfied with his accomplishment.  The lesson was not only how to catch the ball, but to be patient and practice.  I saw the lesson even beyond that.  I saw a satisfied and very happy Daniel.  No doubt, such life lessons, as so many, translate far into our lives and ultimately, into our happiness.  I knew so many years ago as a parent that my daughter’s happiness was tantamount.  It was never the win.  It was never about a college scholarship.  It was always about the present moment and about her and about whether or not she could deem any satisfaction from having been in that moment.  And today, so many years later, I see that what I wanted for her was exactly what she achieved!  HAPPINESS.  


By Dorothy Hatic



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