Friday, June 22nd, 2012
Yesterday, I found myself a little awestruck when I met Debbie Phelps (mom of Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps), who is a warm, effusive, and gregarious woman — someone I could see myself talking to and with for hours, over endless cups of coffee and warm pastries.
Debbie was in New York City with her daughter, Hilary, on behalf of The Century Council, a non-profit with the mission to fight underage drinking and drunk driving through their Ask. Listen. Learn. program. Debbie had appeared on the Today Show before sitting down for an intimate lunch with some mom bloggers and online media folk to talk about her involvement in the program and to share some parenting stories from her 2009 memoir, “A Mother for All Seasons.”
She discussed her son’s own arrest for a DUI at age 19. Even though he had been taught that it was wrong and dangerous to drink and drive, he still made the mistake. “We all fall on our faces,” she said, but the key was to continue teaching values. “We need to instill what’s already known to [our kids] and to enforce and enhance it.” According to The Century Council, parents are the leading provider of alcohol to underage kids and the average drinking age is 11. As a result, it’s important for “parents to model good and bad behavior through what they do and don’t do.”
Even after Debbie and her husband divorced, she didn’t stop or slow down her busy schedule. Before relocating to Baltimore to be closer to a better swim facility, she drove her three kids (Hilary, the second daughter Whitney, and Michael) two hours each way, at different hours and on different days, to various swim practices and competitions. Both her daughters trained at Olympic levels before Michael became the youngest swimmer (at 15) to make the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In the midst of kinetic and emotional moments, known as “DP moments,” Debbie and her family relied on having “calmness and composure,” always taking time to release tension and address big issues with quiet steadiness. To remind herself and her children to always maintain an even-keeled manner, she cups her hand into a “C” and holds it up as a sign.
As Michael heads to the London Olympics (which is being touted as his last Olympics), Debbie is looking forward to taking a real vacation with her family (after having put off a trip to Disney for years). Even though she is a principal at a middle school in Baltimore, she is thinking about heading back to school herself and getting a post doctorate degree. She aims to live life to the fullest.
When asked about the best parenting advice she received, Debbie shared two. For swimming it was, “Never pack or carry [your child's] swim bags” (translation: let your child be independent and self-sufficient!). For raising kids it was, “Let them think for themselves” (translation: let them be individuals!).
More Parents.com features on the Olympics:
- Interview with Gymnast Shawn Johnson
- Better Than Gold: 3 Olympic Athletes
- Plan an Olympic Party for Your Kids
- Make an Olympic Medal Craft