A Mother’s Dilemma

I read an interesting article this morning on parenting.com, about girls and sports. The blogger obviously has two very athletic girls who like to play sports; she bemoans the fact that society doesn’t seem to be able to reconcile beauty and unisex athleticism. Interesting, but not exactly a groundbreaking discussion.

But what about this? What if you are a fairly athletic mom, who grew up playing sports, excelled at many of them, loved playing them, and have a firm understanding of how integral a part they played in the confident adult you have become? What if you want that same confidence and love of exercise for your daughter?


And what if your daughter couldn’t care less about it?

My son loves sports, loves competition, and is pretty athletic, picking things up quickly, with great hand-to-eye coordination. My daughter just doesn’t have that same ingrained sense of competition or love of sport.

She likes to sing. And dance. And color. And sing. There is a lot of singing.

When I put her on a soccer field, she is oblivious to the ball. She is looking for dandelions in the grass, and perfecting twirling in circles as fast as possible. We say, “Just go out and have a good time.” She says, “I hate soccer.” I am making her play out the season, hoping it will click one day, and knowing it probably won’t, but taking her to the game anyway, because she signed up to be on a team, and at least she is learning something about follow-through and being part of a team, and obligation.

I want her to do some physical activity every season, to learn to make exercise a part of her life. We have done dance. (Suprisingly, she hated it. Evidently, baby girl doesn’t want someone to tell her how to dance.) We will put her on swim team this summer. If nothing else, she gets cheap swim instruction and a practice with friends every day. If she doesn’t want to swim in meets, we won’t make her.

I have thought that maybe she might enjoy karate, or something like that, more than team sports or ball sports.

But there is the dilemma: Am i trying to force something on her that is not in her nature? First and foremost, i am interested in her physical health. Am I wrong to force her to try different sports and activities, in hopes that something will catch her interest? I certainly don’t try to subvert her love of art and music, nor would i want to – they are an important part of who she is. I feel that I nurture those, too, but is it wrong to want to make sure she is physically active and healthy? Or am I doing more damage than good?

What is a mother to do?

And, God forbid, what if my daughter ends up wanting to be a cheerleader? Because, you know that is probably what will happen.

  22 comments for “A Mother’s Dilemma

  1. Miriam
    March 12, 2011 at 11:26 am

    OMG…I FEEL your pain. I have one daughter who loves every sport she plays, and one who only signs up if there is a snack at the end of the game. We have tried dance, gymnastics, soccer, golf, swim team and hip hop dance, and she is only 7. The only thing that she has really taken to so far is drama, and I am happy that she has found her niche, even if it is not a competitive sport. It is a really hard…and I am also SO afraid that we will end up in cheer.

  2. March 12, 2011 at 11:53 am

    We had to try many activities until we found one that Annika liked. An activity was not negotiable but she got to pock which one. We discouraged cheerleading heartily.

  3. March 12, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Needless to say, cheerleading will be an absolute last resort, ranked somewhere below lawn bowling or curling.
    I know Annika likes to run, what else does she like? Like you, i see it as non-negotiable. But it is frustrating and disheartening to deal with tears every game day.

  4. March 12, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Holy crap, Miriam! The snack at the end of the game! You kill me – that is my daughter, completely. Please do not even say, “cheer” around me. It makes me throw up in my mouth a little.

    I just got an idea, though, thanks to you commenting, you reminded me that we played volleyball together!. . . think i’ll pull out my old varsity letter and talk to her about it. She might find that interesting.

    One other thing: Does she do anything active, though? I mean, I also make my kids play outside for at least an hour after school and they are usually running around when they are doing that. But your drama kid, does she do any other things? Did you just give up?

    I just keep thinking something will click. How could you NOT like soccer, you know? Absurd!

  5. Robin
    March 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    She needs to start gardening! That’s good exercise. I was just like her. Sorry, but I’m her future.

  6. Kjerstin
    March 12, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    We haven’t signed our kids up for any organized sport. My feeling is that until they ask to do it, I don’t want to push it. Oliver did take a soccer class, learning skills and playing games, through his homeschool group which was a lot of fun and no pressure.

    We are active as a family, though. Our kids have gone cross country skiing this winter, ice skating, snowshoeing, and sledding. Last weekend we hiked through the snow to watch the Iditarod mushers go by. The kids bike, hike and camp with us in the summer. I make them play outside most days (sometime I am too tired to fight the “it’s too cold” argument).

    I want being active and outside to be fun, almost to a fault. So, if it takes an hour and half to get everyone and all our equipment in the truck to go cross-country skiing, but after 45 minutes outside, they are clearly done, we pack it up.

    I hope my kids will find something they love, just like Dan and I did, without and pushing from our parents. I hope that if my daughter sees that I am active, her friends and their moms are active, that she will never doubt that she can be athletic too, in whatever way suits her.

  7. Nat
    March 12, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    So many things to say! Apologies in advance for it!

    First, don’t worry about cheering. Cheering in the South is super competitive and you have to be very good at tumbling.I would even say there is no way of making the high school team any more unless you’ve been cheering for years. It is not just jumping up and down and clapping anymore. It is a very athletically grueling and IMO dangerous sport that requires great strength, agility and flexibility. I think it is more dangerous that gymnastics and diving.Luckily cheering is the last thing my daughter would want to do– specifically because of the clapping and yelling. She would probably like the tumbling part but the standing up and yelling? No.Way.

    Second, she is 5. Relax. I would encourage her to try stuff and insist that she sees it through even when she stops liking it. Committing and seeing stuff through is a great lesson.

    Carmella is 10 and she has done: dance, gymnastics, tennis and swimming. She doesstill takes ballet but that is it. And think she only likes that because it is so strict (and kind of boring) She also takes sewing and has taken several art classes–that is the way she leans. She is required by me to do swim team every summer whether she likes it or not. (Swimming–to me–is a life skill just like reading. You can and should learn to do it well.) She is not competitive at all. And yes, it drives me crazy because she is naturally athletically inclined and if she put effort into any sport I know she would most likely excel. But she isn’t wired like that. Doesn’t mean though she won’t be someday but for now she is not.
    Carmella did recently admit that next fall she would like to try soccer. They play it in PE/Recess and she says they have told that she is good. So maybe that will be her thing though since she was 4 she has said she doesn’t want to play.

    But even though she really isn’t in sports she definitely leads a more athletic life than most kids I know her age. We go for long bike rides (okay, I run). And we go hiking. And she has even–with no training run a 5k because her best friend was. She said she was never doing that again but really she did better than her friend who had trained for it. Sigh.
    What I notice most is that when we do stuff and it is just for fun she will cut loose and get a little aggressive–she LOVES trail running and mt biking. She won’t admit to this but when I make her go I see her come alive and can tell that she really does like it. So right now it isn’t what she wants to do but I can tell, someday. . .

    Okay, and one last thing:
    I NEVER did any organized sports like soccer, softball, basketball, tennis. I was a swimmer from age 7-13. And was on a diving team when I was 10. I was a very good swimmer–recruited to swim for Swim Atlanta and burned out after 2 years of year round swimming and quit competing by the time I turned 13 even though I was good. The only sport I did after that was high school gymnastics which I had no business doing since I had, hello, never taken gymnastics. But I did that because my dad said do a sport or get a job. I thought doing flips sounded way easier than working.

    And now,as you well know, not having had a childhood filled with organized sports has not in the least turned me away from enjoying –at least IMO– a very athletic adulthood. I would even venture to say that I am more fit at almost 40 than I was at 18. I certainly can run a lot faster.

    So don’t worry. Let her do stuff she likes. Just be encouraging and supportive. Or better yet, be her example. If she sees you being athletic she will be too.

  8. March 12, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Robin, with all due respect, i love to garden, and it is exercise, and good for the muscles, but it is not great cardio. Tiller does LOVE to garden. We do that together. She is good at it!
    And I am not going to resign her to a future where she is not very active. I think a lot of activity (not necessarily organized) is part of a healthy lifestyle. I model that, and I want it for her.

  9. March 12, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Kjerstin, that’s a good point, and we do camp, and hike sometimes, although it is not as easy to get out and do that as you, with freaking Alaska as your yard. I am jealous, although not of the cold. :-)

    I hope I didn’t come across as the kind of mom who is yelling at her kid at the fields. I am not like that, the soccer program they do doesn’t keep score, and it is very easygoing at this level.

    @ nat -re: “Second, she is 5. Relax. I would encourage her to try stuff and insist that she sees it through even when she stops liking it. Committing and seeing stuff through is a great lesson.”

    I hope it will work out – i just worry when we go to the doc and they mention her weight, and i am really trying to offer her healthy choices and can’t make her eat them, but keep offering them. Partially, i think it is just her body type, but i do worry. I never had that problem as a kid.

  10. March 12, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    Great post Anne, and Nat is right…so much to say. I wholeheartedly agree with Nat about the “relax she is 5″. Sophie played soccer for the first time this fall, when she was turning 9. She was average, used her hands a few times to start out with, but is now playing again this season and really likes it. I can tell she feels more confident. At 5 she totally would have been looking for butterflies in the field!! I get what you are saying about wanting them to be active, I feel the same way, and my kids play outside a lot. Soph has so far done dance and gymnastics, swim team (began at 7) and now soccer. But she is also a Brownie and really enjoys all that offers, camping, love of outdoors, community service. I feel that she is well rounded, and that to me is impt. She also wants to do Chorus next year at school since she will be old enough. I’m encouraging that as well. I played 3 sport in HS, so I know what you mean about learning to be part of a team. Honestly though, she does get some of that from Brownies as well. My little ones, they are Tiller’s age, and have only done swim lessons last spring, and are now in a gym class (combo gym/dance for Emily) that they love. I am not considering Swim Team for them, they will come with us to Soph’s practices, but neither one of them is anywhere near being able to swim across the pool. Last year Michael would jump off the diving board, but Emily wanted no part in it. Plus really, they still are wiped out by 7pm, and I have no desire to deal with tantrums, etc at the nighttime meets. We will be at the pool a lot this summer, and they will get lots of time in the water. I think at this point, I just want them to enjoy being in the water and associate it with fun. Tiller might just need a bit more time. Sophie was never really interested until she hit end of 2nd/beginning of 3rd grade, and saw her friends beginning to do more. Good luck!

  11. March 13, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Looking at it with a day of reflection, i do think y’all are right. She is only five and i don’t really need to sweat it.
    Oh, and swim team, in our n’hood, they have a group for the little ones. They just come to practice, but don’t compete if they don’t want to. Because yes, those meets are pure hell on earth.

  12. March 13, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    What everyone else said about she’s 5. And frankly, soccer at that age is no fun for anyone. Most of them are on the field picking daisies.

    I hate team sports with a passion, ESPECIALLY soccer, but I knew as a mother I was going to have to suck it up and be supportive of my daughter playing, if only to learn on her own she hates team sports too. It took us 3 tries on soccer for her to finally have a positive experience – the coach made all the difference in the world. Turns out she likes team sports, unlike me. But, it took 2 really long hard seasons with crummy coaches to get there.

    For a while, she was interested in cheerleading. A week at camp with cheerleading as the featured activity quickly took care of that, much to our delight. I think part of being a good parent is supporting them no matter how much it might make you cringe on the inside. Eventually, they come around to seeing you were right all along. (At least, this is what I tell myself.)

    My poor gal is built like my side of the family – solid, on the borderline of chunky. I have complete faith that she will grow tall & willowy like my cousins & brother built just like her at that age, but I’ve also been developing a taste for exercise with her since she was little. I have been fully honest with her about how I have to exercise to avoid packing on the pounds and she will very probably find herself having to do the same thing. We take bike rides, walks, kick soccer balls around, anything to get moving.

    The second half of kindergarten and all of first grade, she didn’t play a team sport and so far, I don’t think it’s ruined her. This winter she even asked to play indoor soccer. I’m pretty sure she’s going to join one of those travel teams and make my entire life revolve around soccer, but I will continue to suck it up, because really, what other choice do I have?

  13. Adrienne Tankersley
    March 14, 2011 at 9:27 am

    I second the ‘gardening’ thing. Even if she helps you plant some seeds in an area that she is not suppose to touch, and then she has a section that is hers to dig at will. This was key for Aubrey when she was starting out, because she wanted to ‘plant’ something every day. In the seeds side, plant some young plants so that she can see them and remember not to dig on that side. Lettuce is fun, or something else she can eat immediately as she is planting. Aubrey calls our mint plants ‘gum’.

    As for cheerleading, if that’s your worst-case scenario, at least it’s great exercise, it’s a team sport, and you happen to know a person who cheered and coached all-star teams all the way through college, and she happens to be an OK person. hint, hint…. I hope my daughter chooses a sport that is less restrictive on her body size, though.

  14. March 14, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Adrienne, I know LOTS of great former cheerleaders. Did not mean to put any of you down – just sitting around watching it would be my personal hell. And yes, agreed about the body issues with cheer and gymnastics and ballet, etc.

    And we ALREADY GARDEN, people! [tap tap – is this thing on?]

    Adrienne, “gum’ made me laugh. . how do you contain your mint? I have only had success with it in a pot, because it spreads so much. Does Aubrey participate in the BPeterson garden with Adam? I just LOVE that for y’all!

  15. Adrienne Tankersley
    March 14, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    For some reason mint does not take over at my house the way it does everywhere else. Everyone I know take s a cutting from someone, and it just spreads like wildfire, but last year I actually bought three different kinds of mint plants, planted them in different locations, and spent the summer rooting cuttings and replanting them other places. I was determined to share in other people’s mint problem, but still I had to dig around to find enough mint for tea or a mojito. I like it on salads, cantaloupe, and in just about any drink, but there’s a cruel joke being played on me with mint.

    *Pssst, I have the same problem with rosemary. Lavender, however, loves me, and they are suppose to like the same soil/sun conditions. *shrug*

    Pre-K *is* involved in the organic garden, and Adam and Michelle compose lesson plans that support what the kids are studying that week. That garden is for REAL, though, so I think the real hands-on, I-get-it kind of learning is had by the older kids. Aubrey still benefits from picking out plants at plant sales and putting those in the ground. She learns by watering the plant, and picking it off to try what it tastes like. The kid ate a quarter of the green beans she was helping me snap for dinner last night, and she just ate them raw as if she was starving. Cracks me up.

  16. March 14, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    So awesome, Adrienne. I just think it’s way cool that the put all that together. A lot of hard work, but huge payoff. Love it!

  17. Leelee
    March 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Leave my Tills alone. She will be fine. She runs around and plays like crazy! She will find something she likes. I was never athletic but played sports anyway (no comments please).

    Have you considered gardening?

  18. March 16, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    [spewing ginger ale on keyboard. . .guffaw. . . gasping for breath]

    Lisa, you did play sports. V. impressively, I might add.

    Also did you read the other comments? Or are you trying to badger me about gardening.

  19. Leelee
    March 16, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Yes, I read the other comments. And I hate to break it to you but the National Institute of Health classifies gardening as moderate aerobic exercise.

    Also, I was really good at swimming.

  20. Nikki
    March 18, 2011 at 11:45 am

    I know I’m a bit late weighing in, but I wanted to add that Piper is not involved in any kind of organized sport. This is mostly due to the fact that I am pretty rigid about NOT over scheduling her (and my) week and allow her to choose only one after school activity. I’ve noticed that any more than that and she’s just a wreck by the end of the week. Well, her choice was guitar lessons, and I had a real dilemma about the physical activity thing, particularly in the winter months here.

    I guess I don’t have an answer here. I’m just another mom worrying about my kid getting enough activity. I have to trust that the after school play is enough for now (if it’s not a torrential downpour, you’ll see a lot of us letting our kids run around in the mud and rain after school) as well as all the walking we do around our neighborhood.

    I could also worry about her not learning the value of being on a team, but jeeze, she’s 7, you know? I figure she’s got plenty of time to figure that one out.

    That was a good post, btw!

  21. March 18, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks, Nikki! I agree. We get tons of afterschool exercise, and this is her only activity.

    I think y’all are good about walking and riding bikes, too, right?

    BTW, her guitar is something else! So talented!

  22. March 18, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Leelee – yes, moderate activity for gardening. I’m not denying it is healthy (mentally, too!).

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