If we expect our children to become adults who work hard when nobody is watching, it’s important to take time when they are children, to notice when they are working hard and doing their best.
I spent some time Friday night watching my nine year-old son Kal participating in the Center Shot archery program at our church. It’s his second year in the program, but he has no other archery experience. More potential than skill. What he knows about archery, he has learned through this program (his dad knows zilch).
I always watch him shoot at the target, but sometimes two kids are shooting at the same target. I can’t always tell which arrows are his from a distance. So I usually just watch his body language and facial expressions and see how closely he’s listening to instructions. Sometimes he looks my way in the back of the church gym during the night, but usually not.
I wasn’t paying particularly close attention at one point because he had just finished shooting all of his arrows into the target. I might have even been distracted by casual conversation with someone seated next to me. But I looked up just in time to see Kal, looking back at me proudly. He was pulling his arrows out of the target, but he was saving the best for last. His hand waited on the arrow that stuck perfectly in the middle of the target. Kal wasn’t going to pull it out until he was sure his dad had seen it (“look Dad, I did it”). As soon as we made eye contact and I gave him a thumbs up, he pulled it out and went about his business.
I didn’t carry out any notable “dad feat”. I just sat in a folding chair. But it made me think of kids that hit a bullseye and turn around looking for encouragement or approval…….and nobody’s there, time after time.
Today I watched my daughter Maddie run in her regional track meet. The 800M run is her top event and her best chance to advance to the state meet for the first time (1st & 2nd place qualify). She came into the meet as the 5th seed in region (I think?). As a 16 year-old junior, Maddie and I have shared hundreds and hundreds of athletic contests, many of those with me as her coach at youth and middle school levels.
But in high school, I have tried to be a quiet presence of support, hiding in the shadows. As a father of a teenage girl, the thought enters your mind that your daughter probably won’t even notice anymore if you’re not at her events (and does she even care if you come?). When Maddie was on the track today, I had no reason to believe she even knew where I was.
I stood by myself at a spot just outside the track, about 75 yards beyond the finish line. She looked strong as she passed me on the 2nd and final lap. She moved up from 5th place to a strong 2nd place finish on the lap, finishing 5 seconds better than her season’s best time.
Silently from a distance I watched. I wondered if she would look my way. I delighted in the joy in her face, felt a sense of pride in her laughter and sportsmanship among the other runners. And then she shocked me. Maddie looked across the track at me like she knew exactly where I was the whole time……grinning at me from ear to ear giving me a big thumbs up (“I did it Dad!!!”).
I know it sounds cliche’ and cheesy but don’t underestimate the value of just being there. Kids just want to be noticed when they do something good. They need encouragement to continue on when they think they’re doing poorly.
As our kids grow older, will our kids choose us as parents to share their triumphs with? Will they give up on something too soon because we weren’t there to help them believe in themselves?
Some kids feel constant pressure to be the best on the court, track, or field. Kids that are playing to please somebody else are miserable.
But kids that look over their shoulder for support, encouragement, and direction…….and always find it, are something else entirely.
Whatever your kids are doing, just find a way to be there. They don’t need you to be there to tell them how they can do it better. They just need you to celebrate when they do it well (or give a a great effort, of course).