A Difficult Conversation


“You never say anything positive to me.”

“It’s not that, buddy. I just think you are not hearing what the coach is saying and getting both frustrated and offended.”

“She hates me. She’s never going to let me play with kids my own age.”

“But, you are not at the level of the kids your own age.” I choose my words carefully. I make sure not to say, “not as good as…”.

“How does she know how good I am or not when she never watches me play? She never gives me a chance and only puts me in the group with kids five years or more younger than me.”

I get distracted, “They weren’t that young.”

“I don’t care. I’m totally embarrassed out there. Why won’t you help me practice?”

“This is the first time that you’ve asked. Of course, I’ll help you practice.”

“You say that, but you always get too busy with work or the other kids.”

“I won’t. You want to work on this, so I will help you. But if you are not happy playing tennis, you don’t have to.”

“I don’t know what I want to do. Maybe I would like it better if I was better at it.”

“You absolutely would. But you have to put the time in. Just like with your trumpet. If you only practice some of the time, when you really need to play, you will be frustrated.”

He gets distracted: “I’ve been practicing! Why don’t I get credit for practicing more?”

“But now we are talking about tennis.”

“How can I get better if I only play with the little kids and do the same stupid drills over and over for skills that I already know?”

Sigh. I cannot tell him that he has not perfected those skills yet. He’s too raw.

“I will help you practice like you asked. I just want to make sure you are like playing.”

“Let’s do some practicing and I’ll see how I feel.”

“Sounds good.”

26 thoughts on “A Difficult Conversation

  1. Thank you for sharing this, the same conversation takes place in our household with my 16 year old son and practicing the baritone. Yesterday Anne Hartfeld and Tracy Hanna posted this quote during their presentation in MUlit:
    “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good.” “It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” Gladwell Outliers: The Story of Success.
    Thought I’d “pass” it on.

  2. Words have to be chosen carefully because the wrong ones can cause more harm than good. When one is feeling frustrated and angry the wrong words can just aggravate the situation. Your words were well chosen and gave hope and help.

  3. Ah! Parenting is to hard! And there are so many times we have NO IDEA what to say. Do we give them tough love? Do we make them feel better? I wish there were an instruction manual! Thanks for sharing, Aileen.

    1. You mean there isn’t an instructional manual? If only that existed. Parenting is a tough and lonely job. Thanks Aileen for sharing such a personal moment. Words are powerful and must be used carefully.

  4. I love how I can very clearly imagine the body language of the speakers in this story: your conscious awareness of your body language and how he might perceive you, his defensive and maybe a little dejected. Most importantly, I love that I hear the words of a mama who very much loves her son and will support him even if he is not destined for a life of tennis fortune and fame.

  5. Parenting is never easy, especially when our children have to come to some hard self-realizations. Who can’t relate to wanting to just jump into something, without the hard work that practice brings? Supporting him with love and speaking truth is awesome. Keep up the great work!

  6. Have you been spying on me? This similar conversation goes on with my Natalie as well. Isn’t it hard being the guide to our heros sometimes? We are always walking a tight rope of support and and letting them fail! I know it can feel lonely and guilt ridden a lot of the time when we are parenting. But you are not alone.

  7. I have to admit I think the stage of life my child is at is soooo difficult (she just turned 1), but am reminded constantly that parenting at all ages and stages is hard. Thanks for sharing some valuable insight.

  8. Thanks for the nudge to at least explore this supportive community. I wish I could say the parenting conversations get easier as they get older, but I would be lying. I admire how you weighed honesty about his skills with what he most needed at the time of the conversation.

  9. This reminds me of what we have been talking about with writing! It takes practice, practice, practice to get confident and comfortable with a craft or skill. Tell him to keep going- as long as he likes it and is having fun! He needs to make sure he’s enjoying the journey! Great advice Mom!

  10. Seemed like a difficult conversation to have…I remember a similar conversation with my Dad when I was younger and wanted to get better at pitching…he did the same kind of thing with me and he did practice with me – A LOT – and it helped! Your son is lucky to have you!

  11. It is always difficult to see your children struggle and feel defeated. My dad was so hard on me with sports as a kid. I rarely was told the positive things I did. There was always something I could do better. I know he meant well. He was trying to make me mentally tough and help me improve my skills. I liked how you chose your words carefully and didn’t dismiss his fears, yet you made sure you were still real with him and where he was with his skill level. Finding a balance of support, encouragement, and honesty is important.

    1. Knowing my son is not overly competitive, I talk to him this way. My daughter is more motivated to play sports and shows promise. I wonder how I would have talked with her.

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