Last winter I took my eldest son, Bobby, and my nephew skiing for their very first time. When Bobby did great on his first run, I decided to take my nephew down the mountain too. Of course, it was ridiculous to think I could handle 2 beginners. Bobby ended up falling.
I was convinced I had ruined skiing for Bobby forever; he was resistant to sports to begin with. I had already scheduled private lessons for the boys 2 days later, so I sent them anyway.
Bobby was not exactly excited to get back on skis after his initial spill. He resisted. He acted out. It was ultimately a failed attempt.
Hoping he’d maybe forgotten about his first experience, I tried to get him back on skis on another weekend at a different mountain. This time, he was like a limp noodle, refusing to as much as stand upright let alone listen to his instructor. Bobby only wanted to ski with me, but that was impossible since I had unfortunately been in a ski accident the week before and was forced to sit on the sidelines for the rest of the season. I was so distraught.
Maybe it was the concussion speaking, but I just couldn’t understand how my son—my own flesh and blood—didn’t love skiing as much as I did. I was looking into buying a ski house. What would I do with Bobby if he hated skiing? To add insult to injury, my nephew, whose parents don’t ski, was having the time of his life. I couldn’t stop thinking how reversed the situation was.
To me, this was a catastrophe. Sad to admit, but I even cried about this to my therapist. It wasn’t so much that Bobby hated skiing or that my dream house was quickly becoming a nightmare. No, it’s because I was suddenly becoming this mother that I didn’t want to be—a momzilla of sorts.
Refusing to accept Bobby’s athletic distaste (how can a dietitian’s son be physically inactive?), I gave the whole sports thing one more shot (he refused to play soccer too)—this time with mother-son rock climbing. The result? Bobby thought that scaling the smaller wall was fun, but when faced with the full rock wall, he went running for the hills. (Well, really, he hid under the mat as though he were a small animal.) I, of course, said all the wrong things—and hated myself as each word escaped my mouth. I offered rewards. I made threats. I knew I was completely out of line.
Both my therapist and husband said I was overreacting. They said when my son was ready, he would participate in whatever physical activities he wanted. So, heeding their advice, I dropped it. No more sports classes, no more private instructors, no more pushing or comparing or dreaming. I needed to let Bobby be himself and grow into someone different than who I may have thought he’d be, at least at that age.
Well, guess what? This fall, I enrolled Bobby in a school soccer program. I know you’re thinking, “Here she goes again.” But my husband and I send our children to progressive schools that encourage self-exploration, teamwork and learning through activity, and I hoped he would react differently in a more supportive environment, especially now that Bobby was older. I sent him to a soccer program that focuses on having fun—not on drills—and it worked. He loved the class and never complained.
Since turning five, Bobby has taken to a few other sports too. He smiles through swim lessons (my husband initially taught him to swim since he hated the classes), has started skateboarding (and is doing well) and has even attended a 2-week sports camp with a classmate over winter break.
Apart from giving him enough time to acclimate to new athletic endeavors, I think that Bobby’s peers have positively influenced him as well. As a colleague of mine, a pediatric development specialist, taught me, when kids try new activities, they don’t have to do them well. It’s more important to offer encouragement and praise for trying. So this is what I have been doing and I think it is effective in building self- esteem and acceptance. After his first swim lesson, Bobby said to me, “I know why you are proud of me. Because I was scared, but I tried it and I had fun.”
As parents, we need to focus on building our children’s self-worth as they learn to cope with their environment. Give your child time to be who they are, not who you want them to be. I caught myself being a momzilla and changed my ways. It’s a delicate issue, but as parents we have a responsibility to handle it with care.
Have you ever found yourself facing your inner momzilla?