When kids succeed, who gets the credit?
By Kent McDill
Our twins, Dan and Lindsey, are in the Guinness Book of World Records. Really.
They are in the Class of 2014 at Maine South High School, along with 18 other sets of multiple births (16 sets of twins, three sets of triplets). That's a certified world record. The previous record was held by a high school class in Texas, for about six months. They only had 11. They weren't even trying.
It is really cool that my kids are in the Guinness Book of World Records. They have T-shirts that say so; they appeared on the Rosie O'Donnell show for about one second each. They have a personal point of pride, even though they had nothing to do with it, really.
I really enjoy my children's successes, big or small. A person needs something to point to in their lives, a moment of triumph, of recognition, to claim their tiny part of this huge universe. They need to be able to point to something with pride and say "I did that!"
My kids have had such moments. Not a lot; it's not like they are superhuman in any one category. But they have had moments when they were No. 1, they were the hero, they were the best.
I love those moments. I am proud of them every time. I get excited, perhaps as excited as they get, in those moments.
But I do not claim those moments as my own.
I live vicariously through Jimmy Buffett; I do not live vicariously through my children. In fact, I go out of my way to make sure everyone knows that my children's special moments are, in most cases, theirs and theirs alone.
About three years ago, my son Kyle was playing in an indoor soccer game. After 39 minutes of the 40-minute game, the contest was scoreless. Kyle was a defender for that team, but in the game's final minute, his coach put him on top in hopes his speed would provide a spark. It did. With 36 seconds to go, Kyle scored on a one-timer to win the game.
It was an awesome moment. The place went berserk, with me leading the berserkers. I will never, ever forget that moment.
But, when the other parents congratulated me (for what, exactly?) I quickly deflected the praise. I had nothing to do with Kyle's success, other than drive him to his practices and games. Kyle won that game, not me. And when Kyle walked around the arena accepting high fives and smiles and hugs, I was happy for him, ecstatic in fact, but I made sure to stand back out of the way. That was his moment, not mine.
I have spent a lot of time at youth sports events over the years, and I know the parenting thing sometimes gets out of control. I quickly manage to identify the parents that are involved to a dangerous degree and distance myself from them. They are often alien to me.
I almost never had that personal moment of complete victory. In my four years as a distance runner at Conant High School, I won one race, a 2-mile track race my senior year. I didn't even handle that all that well. As I ran toward the finish line, I thought "Who put this stupid piece of tape in my way?"
My kids have had all kinds of successful moments. Haley won all sorts of ice skating trophies, and kept improving her ACT test scores until she got the number she wanted. Dan has had big moments in soccer, cross country and at a spelling bee. Lindsey has had soccer success and is right now enjoying a major moment in cross country, and Kyle is going to continue to enjoy success in soccer while he prepares to take over the world someday.
I will accept the notion that I had some kind of influence on my children's performances in these areas. But I also know that the kids may have had these successes in spite of my parenting contributions. And if I want to take credit for my children being good athletes or good students, doesn't that mean I have to accept blame for them being poor eaters, or selfish, or bad with money?
That's a problematic trade-off at best, don't you think?
I'm really happy my kids have had personal moments of triumph, but not so much because they are my kids, but because I know them as people, and I know how hard they have tried to achieve their successes. I think of my kids as my friends, and I'm happy for them as I would be for any other friend's success.
I'm not kidding. If you are a friend of mine, and you did really well in the spelling bee when you were a kid, tell me about it. I will be very very happy for you.
• Kent McDill is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Janice, have four children, Haley, Dan, Lindsey and Kyle.
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