When to Push

I admit it, I don't like to be that mom that forces my kids to do much of anything.

I never used to be that way:  I was perfectly happy making us all miserable because I believed there wasn't another way.

I believed that to raise caring, thoughtful, productive children I had to force them to do everything that I thought was best for them.

I believed that, as the parent, I was the boss; always.  I truly thought that having complete authority was the only way to teach my kids how to behave. 

Perhaps if I had to go back and do it all over again I would.  They were younger then and my way of dealing with things now might not have worked when they were younger.  I don't know.  I just know that I'm not like that anymore (or not ALWAYS like that).  I still force them to do chores or other things I think are important and non- negotiable, but my view of what is non- negotiable has changed dramatically over the years.

 But I still struggle with when to push them-- especially when they are fearful and anxious.  Especially when they are fearful and anxious over something that was supposed to be fun!

When is it OK to encourage them, to nudge them, to push them to try something and when do I back off and give them free reign?

I wish there was a nice easy line to see and follow but there's not and oftentimes the choices we make as parents are just judgment calls that we hope we won't one day regret.

I had one of these judgment calls to make last night.  I was really hoping it's one I wouldn't regret:

  • Ian had signed up for basketball again this year (with his say so!).  We had player evaluation night last night and for the two days leading up to it Ian had started dropping hints that he didn't want to go anymore.  I tried to ignore the hints and reminded him he was already signed up; the time to make the decision had already passed.  I had already paid.  I thought he was resigned to that.  Over the past 24 hours the hints got more and more obvious until he finally kept saying he didn't want to go.  He didn't want to play basketball this year.  He cried (and cried, and cried) over this because I was pretty adamant that he was going to play.  I was annoyed that, once again, he had signed up for something  and then waited until the very last minute to change his mind.  I was concerned that he was so freely giving up something he has always claimed to love to play without even seeing what it would be like this year. 

He's played basketball for over two years now and has always loved it.  We live 15-20 minute away from our local school so I know he wasn't worried we were going to drop him off and leave him there (his standard concern) so I was just baffled at his abrupt change of heart. 

I tried sitting down and talking with him but was frustrated that we seemed not be getting anywhere:

  • He claimed he didn't want to play because his brothers would be playing video games while he was on the court and that wasn't fair.  If Ian was a big gamer I might have thought that was a valid argument but it wasn't.  If he wasn't at basketball he'd be working and the boys would still be playing video games so I knew that wasn't the real reason.  
  • He tried arguing that he would miss out on working with his grandfather and while that was true he missed out on work the last two years too and often worked with his grandfather after his games instead.  I reminded him that he had no idea what the schedule would be like this year and might not miss work at all.  
  • Finally after just about giving up he told me he was afraid that he wouldn't know anyone that was playing since he had not been in school for a few years.  He as also worried that everyone else on his team would be much better than him.  Aha!  This I thought I could work with.  We talked about the past two years and how he knew only one or two kids at first and made friends with his teammates by the end of the season.  I reminded him that this could be a great opportunity to meet new people.  If he really didn't click with any team member that was OK too and he'd only see them 2 hours a week tops-- one hour for practice and one hour at the game where he'd hardly have any time to really socialize anyway since they'd be running drills and playing basketball.  I assured him that most teams become close simply by playing the same game.  I reminded him that his team lost every single game the first year he played and that he's always had the same ability, if not a slightly higher ability than all the other kids.  It's not one team member that makes the team.  I reminded him that if he wasn't the worst player last year it was unlikely he'd be the worst player this year.  
So, I pushed.  I pushed him to give it a try this year.  I thought he had agreed with me that it was worth giving it a try. 

 He really wanted me to bring him to the evaluation night, (not my husband) and while I hate being out in the cold and the dark and tend to delegate these things to my husband, I agreed to go with him.  I figured if it gave him extra courage it was least I could do.

I typically bring a book to read or something to do while my kids are occupied (mostly to stop myself from interjecting in any way and letting a coach or other adult take the lead) but I didn't last night.

I wanted to make sure to really see Ian.  I wanted him to see I was there for HIM.

 It was difficult even getting him in the building.

We arrived 20-30 min. early for his session and watched the younger players.

The whole time he was fighting tears, telling me he didn't want to play, and obsessing over the fact that he didn't know anyone.  He started telling me his stomach hurt and he felt like he was going to throw up.  It was like basketball camp all over again (you can read about that here) and I'll admit I thought about leaving with him.

 I realized he wanted me and not his dad because my husband would not have been sympathetic and would have made Ian stay.

I thought about it for a bit and decided that I really didn't want to walk out of the building; I wanted to show him that he could do this.  He is capable of facing his fears and overcoming his anxiety.  I wanted to help:

  • I reminded him I was right here and would not leave.
  • I did not sit in the bleachers but on the side of the room; apart from everyone else so he could keep a visual on me at all times.
  • I reminded him not everyone had shown up yet since we were early and there was bound to be at least one person he knew in the gym by the time the event started.   
  • I reminded him practice was only hour at the most and it would all be over soon one way or another.  I told him he was staying.  
He was getting loud and drawing a small crowd and I gently reminded him that crying or throwing up would make him pretty unforgettable for the rest of the season.  I didn't want to shame him but I did want to realize that at his age and for his size that's just the reality of it.

Listening to him carry on was starting to make my stomach hurt and the whole time I worried I was doing wrong by him.  

I was even starting to wonder if he wouldn't be better off in school seeing these kids everyday when he finally noticed one of his friends coming in the door.

I thought we were saved.

 He talked to his friend for a bit and when his friend went to play, Ian sat back down.

He was breathing deeply and still complaining his stomach hurt.

I was one of those kids who got sick most every day before school due to nerves and I knew that was his problem too.

I talked to him about self- talk and thinking positive.

They started evaluations and when he ran over to the group I saw several kids high fiving and fist bumping him.

 I watched.

I watched closely.

 Was he having fun?

Was he miserable?

Did he know anyone?

Did I have the right to push him to keep at it for an entire season?

I obsessed and I worried... for all of 5 minutes. 

He LOVED it!  Absolutely LOVED it.  He was laughing, grinning and joking around with all the kids on the court.

He got a basket or two and missed a few; just like all the other kids.

He made a few new momentary friends and realized he did recognize almost everyone on the court.

As soon as we got in the car he actually told me he was glad I had forced him to stay.

He can't wait to see what team he's on and who will be playing with him and while I'm still praying he'll have at least one real friend on the team he assured me that he knew most of the kids on his side of the gym and he's looking forward to it.

The kid I had with me after basketball practice, for the ride home and hanging around the house until bedtime was not the same kid I've had hanging around for the past few days. 

He was jubilantly happy and told me so many times.  I was glad.

I was glad I listened to my initial instincts and pushed him this time.

This time it worked out well.

This time I would have regretted giving up on him and letting him give up on himself.

I just wish I had a crystal ball or something so I'd know in the future if it's the right time to push or if it's the time to back off.  I'm not always so lucky with these judgment calls!


  1. Oh, this struggle with anxiety in our children. Knowing when to push and when to let them be, it's so difficult! Thank you for this encouraging word! I'm so happy that He loved it and you didn't give up.

    1. I was so relieved! Thought for sure he'd cry the whole way home and tell me I was a monster.

  2. I know this feeling all too well. I have one shy kiddo who really likes to just stay home. However, I know getting out there and meeting people is so good for him. Usually, I am able to push, he complains, goes then loves it. Similar to what you described. I do wonder though, just a thought, if you struggled with similar feelings as a kid all the time, and he seems to struggle too, maybe talking to a dr would be a helpful thing. I personally take an anxiety med for my ADHD and it has made a world of difference. If it would work for him, imagine how this event might have gone. Just a thought.

    1. Hm.. I had never thought about it. Definitely something I probably should think about. Thank you for your suggestion.


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