Living Vicariously Through Our Kids

Grab a coffee (or tea), this one’s gonna be a longy.

I’m gonna put something out there today which may sound like common sense, but I don’t think really is.

Hello, and Happy Monday! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend. Our weekend ended on a high when this guy finally wrote his high school entrance exam yesterday morning. BOOM, what a relief that’s over!!! I’m not quite sure where the years have gone, and how we got here. But we’re there.

Walking in to write the exam

Now stay with me… if you live in Quebec, chances are your kid plays hockey as do my boys. It’s kind of our thing. But it doesn’t really matter where you live… for the sake of this post, it is interchangeable with gymnastics, football, basketball, cheerleading, soccer, whatever competitive sport your child may play.

I will now give you the back story so that you may follow along. When my eldest son started playing hockey, his little brother was still in diapers… in other words, big brother took up all the resources (time, chauffeuring to practices, etc…). He showed his great skill at a young age, which came as the result of a lot of work and practice. My husband made sure he had all those extras… power skating, extra private ice time, all the extra hours on the ice to improve his game to be able to give him a chance to make the highest level each year (the extras on top of his hockey program which was already 3-4 times per week).

And he did. He made the A teams.


And then my little son grew, and he too wanted to become a hockey player. He finally became a highly active member of this family and he had needs as well. He showed his hockey skill at an even younger age, and had a raw, natural talent. He was stick-handling at 14 months in the basement before he could even walk and was watching hockey DVDs day and night. Sports came very easy to him.

Winter 2009-10 266

Again, stay with me. I have a husband who works by Montreal standards, relatively far away. I cannot call him to leave work at 4:30pm to bring a kid to hockey practice for 5:30pm. I just can’t and I don’t. He can’t leave that early. Hockey practices and other sports have been my responsibility to get them there. He always comes after work at 6:30 or 7pm and watches and encourages them, but he does not do the after school RUSH: rush to do homework, rush to eat dinner, rush to make it to hockey practice on time. I would like to say, that when the boys play on the same night, he always leaves early, so he is hugely helpful.

Fast forward to a few years ago… I now had two thriving boys playing hockey, each 3-5 times per week (that’s 8 times in an arena on average most weeks), coupled with baseball, weekly tennis, etc… When the extra ice time for my son stopped due to my sheer inability to be everywhere at once, he stopped making the very top level (still high, not highest). The ability to do all the extras to keep him at the highest level wasn’t an option anymore… my little son deserved to play just as much as his older brother, and everyone knows that to make a YOUNG player great, it’s all in the ice time. The more you play, the better you get. He wasn’t playing as much as he had been, and therefore he wasn’t as good as the friends who were still getting the extras. Many of those friends had fathers who worked from the home or who were able to leave work early throughout the week to take their kids to extra practices. I didn’t have that situation.

And while none of these kids are going to the NHL (okay, maybe Massimo will, my son’s teammate from years ago), it IS a status thing among peers (I’m talking both kids AND parents), to say your kid made AAA or AA hockey. And I could sense my boy’s embarrassment a few years ago when he made the second highest level and his friend at school asked him, “So, what level did you make?”  I said to him, “You can’t compare yourself to friend X sweetheart, he deserves that highest level, because he is working hard to stay there. He is on the ice 6-7 times per week.” Keep in mind, we asked our son throughout this entire process if he still wanted all the extras his dad had been giving him when he was smaller, but he said no. Truth be told, we absolutely would have found a way get him to all those extra practices had he wanted it and asked for it, but he didn’t and we didn’t push it. We didn’t force him – forcing goes against everything I stand for. School is vital. But sports is secondary. He wanted to do other things, try other sports, heck, play hoops in the driveway after school and have a little downtime! He didn’t want to focus solely on hockey and I was content for him with that.



But what happens when you take your eye off the ball? You can slip a little. It’s the old argument: is it better to focus on one thing and do it exceptionally well, or do a few things and maybe not fully excel at one?

And maybe we can be faulted as parents because we didn’t push him harder to continue the extras to give him a better fighting chance to play at the highest level, but it just wasn’t a priority to us. He once said to me, “Mom, hockey doesn’t come easy to me. I have to work hard to play well. There is only one thing that comes easy to me, and that is school. School is easy for me.” I breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Buddy, that’s okay!! If there is anything I would want to come easy to me, it would be school. You’re lucky, school NEVER came easy to me. You’re going to grow up and become a wonderful member of this society, and I would much rather you be smart.”

Our friend said to us last year, “Why didn’t you continue giving him the extras? He’s such a great hockey player. We gave our son all the extras, but had we not, he never would have been playing at the high level he is today.”

And this is where I say common sense isn’t common. We’re all just racing to have our kids be on the AAA soccer team, or the AAA basketball or hockey team. We’re all running around, carpooling, shuffling them from here to there, some may say over-programming our kids, giving our children every opportunity for them to succeed. We all mean well. And we all do it with good hearts and the best intentions.

But here is my on the fence question of the day: WHAT IF WE JUST RAISED A HOCKEY PLAYER? OR A SOCCER PLAYER? What if we didn’t raise an exceptional one? One that is possibly giving up other things to be that AAA player? What if they just PLAYED, and not at the highest level? Can we as parents be satisfied if they just play where they play, and not apply pressure to be better? What if they have a more well-rounded life, they do other things, they have a social life? What if we don’t enroll them in all the extras? Why not a WELL-ROUNDED, lower level player, than a more stressed-out, tired, AAA player? Cuz we all know what it takes to be at the top (unless you are truly gifted)… it takes ASS-BUSTING work. It often comes at the expense of good school grades. But who are we doing it for? Are we doing it for them, or for us? Can we digest the concept that at the end of the day, school is really the only thing that matters? Because no one’s really going to the NBA or the NHL (except the very tiny minority), but they WILL have to grow up, get a job and support a family. They WILL have to excel in school. Maybe we have it all wrong. Maybe school is all that matters. Maybe AAA sports is irrelevant.

Just a thought…

My younger son is a naturally, talented hockey player, but he’s not getting the extras right now either (due to all the reasons above). And that might be sad for him, because he’s at the highest level now, but that might change in the future as the other parents continue giving their kids the extras, and he will no longer be able to compete.

I don’t know and I don’t have the answers. All I know, is it takes great sacrifice to stay at the top. And I’m just not so sure I see that the sacrifice pays off in the long run. I’m just not so sure it’s worth it. It’s sports. It’s not life.

Please, please, PLEASE, tell me what you think. I’d really love to know.


  1. You pretty much summed up exactly how I feel. In our family it’s soccer but I always say, who are the kids doing it for? Themselves or us? I think were all pressuring our kids too hard. Kids have a lot of pressure today. What happened to the good old days of playing sticks in the driveway or shooting hoops in the park?

  2. Great post Erica,

    You have known me for quite a while and you know how I have always put my kids first. I am a hockey mom, swimming mom, dancing mom…………all the way. I have made every possible sacrifices ans compromises so that my kids always got the extras. That being said, there is one thing that I never compromised or sacrificed and that is my kids’s happiness and smile.

    My little one quit hockey 2 years ago because he did not want the pressure anymore. He now swimm, dances and snowboard. NO competition, just fun. He still play hockey outside with his older brother. His decision to quit was questionned by other parents. They just did not understand why he was quitting, specially after his team won the Montréal Cup (remember that year Erica-lots of fun). Those conversations were really strange because I felt that I had to justify my son’s decision.

    Then, my older son decided to quit double letters this year and play single letters. That decision came from him after a tough year in an Elite team and also after he discovered Snowboarding. My older son did not smile for a whole year. On the ice, he looked like a robot. This year, he is smiling, laughing and he his soooooooo relax. His grades are good and his self confidence is high.

    I am very competitive and for a long time, I could not understand how someone would only want good and not best. Well, now, looking at my kids I get it. Good is good, good will allow you to have fun.

    Always good to read your post Erica

    Cathy xx

  3. I’m going to share this post and say it is absolutely spot on. I gave up this ridiculousness of competitive parenting a while ago but I had my own battle on the other side of the fence. My daughter was in Girl Scouts, I was a scout leader, and if you stay in Girl Scouts for the long haul it opens all kinds of doors. But last year, my daughter just wasn’t that into it. She never verbalized I want to quit Girl Scouts I could just see she didn’t enjoy it anymore. It was hard to give up my troop, I loved being a Girl Scout leader but she comes first and so I resigned as a leader and I just let her decide what she wanted to do. At first she didn’t want to do anything, no afternoons running around, no constant commitments it was a whole no world for us both. I had to resist the urge, really resist the urge to plug her into something else. I gently offered the running club, the chess club, girl softball to a variety of completely mediocre responses. Then one day she came running in and she said I want to be a part of this can you sign the permission form. She wanted to apply to be a member of her school’s Science Olympiad team. I don’t think I’ve ever had a prouder moment. She said I saw them advertise on the morning news at school and I knew this was for me! So my question is are we artificially choosing our children’s after school interest to fuel our own self-worth because kids interest change and they will try new things? Who needs a “career” at 10 years old anyway?

  4. Great Question!

    I have sooooo much to say on this Erica however I will keep it brief (ish) 😉

    Looking at the big picture, as parents, we (hopefully) know what is best for our own children. Keeping in mind that we are all different and what might be good for my child doesn’t necessarily mean that it is good for another child. Not everyone can keep up with ass-busting work and some children thrive on it. For the parents who push too hard, those who do not recognize their own child’s limitations, those who take “Living Vicariously through Our Kids” to a whole new level…not much can be said or done.
    I too believe that school must come first, because as you stated they WILL have to grow up, get a job and support a family. I think that most of us parents are so busy running, doing, providing that we never stop and think of what in fact we have done for our children…and with that being said, let’s just raise well rounded children, AAA or not. Only you can decide what is best for your child, supporting them no matter what level is probably the most important thing we can do.

  5. Great post Erica. Another topic that I am sure all Moms grapple with.

    I think that it all comes down to a quote from Dr. Phil which I strongly believe – “One of the great responsibilities you have as a parent — and one of the greatest gifts you can give to your children — is to teach them to develop their gifts fully to build their lives around whatever it is that fulfills them.” The point is that we need to develop and support THEIR gifts and what fulfills THEM, not us. We need to expose them to many things so that they can find their passion. Should we enroll them in competitive sports if they are interested? – definitely since it will give them great skills for their role as a future adult. Should we make many sacrifices (money and time) to push them to an elite level? In my opinion, that should only be done if you have the resources AND the child shows an exceptional gift AND they have the drive (aka Tiger Woods). That would be, and should be, rare in a 7-year old.

    Again, we have to ask ourselves the tough question – are we doing it for us or them – really?

    1. “Debbie,

      Love that quote from Dr. Phil. A Parent should always help their child to achieve their goals. Help can come from may forms. Support, time, money….there are a lots of ways. It is easy to see if a child is pursuing its passion. You have to look at them and if you see that light in their eyes then you got it.


  6. Yes! I think that we, as parents, put a ridiculous amount of stress on ourselves (and our kids!) in our quest for the BEST. I’d even go so far to say that we can extend the same argument to parents who insist on sending their kids to the toughest high school enriched and IB programs. How many kids actually benefit from that type of high-stress school environment? Are they getting anything out of it, or is it about the parents’ bragging rights?

    Great article, Erica!

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