How do you know if you are raising a future Olympic athlete? What if her love of somersaults and flips could make her the next Shawn Johnson? What if she really is the fastest runner or highest jumper or most synchronized swimmer on the planet?
I’m not asking because I think my couch-potato self actually produced an athlete who’ll compete in the 2024 Summer Games. But it’s not just about athletics: How do you know if your kid’s sweet singing voice is Broadway material, or if her drum-banging signals the perfect ear for music and not just a love of noise?
To put it another way, what really nags at me is: When should we push our children to develop and deepen their interests and talents, and when should we step back and follow their often-apathetic lead? When should we stand our ground and insist they stay in that swimming class or keep practicing that piano teacher, even when their inclination is to want to quit?
I am posing these questions not just to muse–welcome to my Inner Father Insecurity #437–but because I am going in search of answers. Yes, I am heading to London for the Olympics, with many, many thanks to Proctor & Gamble, which is funding the trip as part of its ”Thank You, Mom” campaign.
It’s a tough assignment, but I am doing my journalistic duty and will report back on what I find out. While I am there I will be interviewing as many athletes–and their moms or dads–as I can. In addition to asking them how it feels to, you know, compete in the Summer Olympics, I will also be interrogating them on when they started focusing on their sport (“Did those diapers slow you down, Mr. Phelps?”), and how they knew.
As children, how did they realize that this sport is their passion, that they’d rather be in the pool or gym than doing whatever it is their peers were doing all those years? As parents, how did they decide to allow their children at such young ages to focus their lives so intently and uncompromisingly on this passion?
I, will, of course, let you know what I find out. Check back here on Goodyblog for my posts from London, and follow us on Twitter–we’re @ParentsMagazine–to experience it with me. I will also be shooting as many pictures as I can and posting them to our Instagram account, which is also @ParentsMagazine. And don’t miss the rest of our Olympics coverage, including craft and party ideas!
But before I go, I want to ask: What would you like me to ask the Olympic athletes and their parents? Post your questions in the comments section below or on our Facebook page, and I will try to ask as many as possible.
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.
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!).
There are just over 50 days left until the start of the London Olympics and we couldn’t be more excited! While all of the athletes are undeniably talented, we’ll be cheering a little louder for all of the parents who will be competing. Raising kids and preparing to win gold? That deserves a medal in and of itself.
But there’s one other person (well, more like a monster) we’ll be pulling for: Elmo!
To show the International Olympic Committee (IOC) how serious he is about his quest, Elmo has made a video where he tries a few sports. Yes, he struggles with the hurdles and has some difficulty with weight-lifting, but we admire Elmo’s determination. Those of you with toddlers know how difficult it can be to teach them to persevere.