This summer we made a difficult parenting decision. It was the decision (made together with one of our sons) that he would not play competitive summer baseball. Now before you roll your eyes and conclude that we must not have many “real” challenges, let me explain.
You can’t be around our family long before quickly concluding that we have our hands full. We are a “real” family with “real” issues, just like many others. And a few months ago baseball had begun to create its own challenges for our son and our family – challenges that we could no longer ignore.
What made our decision so very difficult was that it involved something entirely “good” – baseball. Our son truly loves the sport and we’ve learned to love it too. He’s got a fair amount of talent and it gives him an obvious sense of joy and satisfaction, as well as a much needed opportunity to succeed and excel. It’s also helped to teach him some valuable life lessons. So why did we give up baseball if it is such a good thing?
As we’ve learned from Dr. Karyn Purvis, “good” and “bad” stress often affects our children just the same. This is why parents are confused to see their children melt down after the jump house birthday party or in the midst of an exhilarating and fun-filled day at an amusement park. This is why some kids can’t handle an afternoon at the park, a long bike ride, prolonged activities in an unstructured environment, or the anticipation of something fun or novel.
If you think about it, there are many examples of this reality. The stress regulation systems of children from hard places are often compromised and underdeveloped because of their histories. As a result, these children are more prone than typical children to being overwhelmed and spiraling into a state of fear, causing them to respond with fight, flight, or freeze. And all of this can occur even in response to “good” things.
For our son, baseball was creating an unrelenting amount of stress and anxiety. The practices, the build-up to the games, the let-down after the games, his desire to perform well – it was all simply too much. And even though we tried not to add to his stress with any pressure of our own, it quickly proved to be more than he (or we) could handle.
We knew the decision was likely to be misunderstood by coaches and other parents who couldn’t fully understand our reality. I don’t fault them. After all, it’s not their reality. But it became clear to us just how foreign this idea was when one coach persistently encouraged me to have my son go ahead and play because, as he put it, “if he doesn’t he may fall behind and not be able to remain competitive.” I understood and even appreciated what he was trying to do. But, as I explained to him, if we didn’t get the stress of baseball – an entirely good thing – under control, being competitive in future baseball seasons would be the least of our concerns.
It’s been a hard but important lesson for our family to be reminded of: sometimes good things aren’t good. When this is the case, we as parents need to be able to take a step back and be willing to trade what’s good for what’s best — for what helps us meet our children where they are, address their needs, and guide them forward. Maybe the “good” thing you need to re-examine isn’t baseball. Maybe it’s other activities that your child regularly struggles to handle well such as parties, video games, or sleepovers. Maybe it’s certain people that he or she is around but finds it difficult to interact with in a healthy way. Maybe it’s certain places or environments that your child encounters or anticipates such as school, a friend’s house, or even church. Or maybe it’s just your schedule and pace of life.
It doesn’t mean that these “good” things are “bad,” or that your child will never experience them as positive. It simply makes them not good for your child…at this time…in this way. And that’s ok.