“Mom, why didn’t you put me in baseball when I was six?”
My ten year-old’s words swirled through the air as we made our way through the parking lot after an evening little league game.
I lost myself in thoughts playing rapid fire in my brain.
Did I rob him of precious reps by not putting him in t-ball or coach pitch?
Had I squandered his preschool and kindergarten years because I wasn’t ready for team sports yet?
I searched for reasonable answers, but decided to remain silent … and anxious.
The tapping of his cleats on pavement brought me back to the parking lot.
PARENTAL FOMO IN SPORTS
“Our anxiety is a call to action generated by the monkey mind’s perception of threat,” Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind, Jennifer Shannon, LMFT
What happened in that parking lot was pretty simple and happens at little league and gym parking lots all over the country. My anxiety, created a response in me and made me want to do something to fix it.
Not fix my kid or answer his question, but fix my anxiety.
It’s an important distinction to understand, because there is a difference between addressing our kids question and addressing our own anxiety. My kid asked a question, he did not question my parenting.
See what I did there?
My kid wasn’t anxious. My kid was curious.
When your anxiety makes you think you are missing out, you are experiencing parental FOMO (Fear of Missing Out for those of you who still don’t know what that is).
Your brain gets hijacked and starts thinking things like “oh my gosh, I’m responsible for my kid missing out on x, y or z.” These initial thoughts, or what cognitive behavioralists call automatic thoughts*, aren’t inherently bad. It’s normal for most of us to question a decision even when we’ve planned or thought it out for months. Most of the time, we experience the anxious feeling, remember why we chose what we chose, and move on. Sometimes though, these thoughts don’t stop in the parking lot and you are no longer addressing your kids question, you are doubting your parenting and that can make us do a lot of crazy things.
“When hijacked by anxiety, we adopt the monkey mindset, which assumes that in order to be safe we must be certain of al outcomes, we must be perfect, and we must be responsible for others’ feelings and actions,” Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind, Jennifer Shannon, LMFT
Here are some of the actions taken because of Stage One FOMO aka YOUR anxiety:
- Coaching your child loudly from the stands.
- Comparing your child’s ability to the ability of another child.
- Scrambling to schedule private lessons for a child who has never played, but is trying out in two days.
- Yelling or approaching a coach after practice because of playing time.
- Blame other players or coaches for a loss or bad practice.
- Yelling at an umpire or referee because of a bad call.
- Embarrassing your child, their coach or their teammates.
- Trying to keep your child from the inherent struggle that is built into sports (see all of the above).
Remember, kids are supposed to have a range of experience, struggle, disappointment, success, joy, happiness, etc. in order to develop a wide range of life skills and the resiliency they need to thrive. As a parent of young children just beginning their journey into sports, dance, music, preschool or whatever, it can be confusing to discern the difference between helping your child and your own parental FOMO.
THE AMYGDALA AND PARENTAL FOMO
“When there is a perception of threat, the amygdala set off an alarm system that alerts their neighbors, the hypothalamus and the adrenal glands, which in turn send hormonal and neurological signals to the sympathetic nervous system, instructing it to accelerate the heart rate and breathing, bathe you in stress hormones, and shut down digestion and other necessary functions – in short, to go into survival mode,” Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind, Jennifer Shannon, LMFT
It’s sort of like a fire detector. Every experience, every sound, smell, feeling or thought passes through the amygdala and when it smells smoke it signals our brain and our body to take action, because, duh, fire. Our brain shuts down even the ability for our body to digest, making the amygdala the ruler of all. We begin to think of multiple scenarios (see automatic thoughts*) as to what might possibly go wrong. Our bodies then summon the proper response for those scenarios: shallow breathing, sweaty palms, signing up our kid for private lessons, yelling at a coach, blaming teammates for making mistakes … Wait. What?
Yep. Instead of surveying the situation, taking a moment to understand the context and simply fanning the smoke away from the detector, your freaked-out parent self sends in a whole crew of fire fighters and a ladder truck to douse the place. You know, just in case.
The thing is, dousing the place neither solves the problem nor creates a healthy response for you or your child going forward.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE FOMO, DON’T FIX THE FOMO
This isn’t about saying you’re a bad parent (that’s your amygdala speaking), it’s about learning to recognize our own process so we don’t douse our kid with a fire hose every time they sit the bench or experience adversity in youth sports.
The amazing thing about our pliable brains is that your anxiety isn’t fixed. We can learn to be less anxious and we can learn how to manage our automatic thoughts so we respond thoughtfully and intentionally. Acknowledging our initial thoughts and overactive amygdala takes work. The more aware, the better we can guide our kids through difficult situations instead of keeping them from it. The better guide we are, the more resilient they become and the more prepared they are for the various ups and downs that come with not only playing sports, but living life.
Raising kids and navigating the waters of sports, music, school or anything else is a marathon, not a sprint.
Priscilla Tallman is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She has written for FloVolleyball, Volleyball Magazine, The Art of Coaching Volleyball, Sweat RX, Gorgo Fitness Magazine, CrossFit Fury, The CrossFit Games and OPEX Fitness. She was an 2x All-America volleyball player from the University of Georgia, SEC Player of the year and was inducted into UGA’s Circle of Honor in 2006. She has played on the US National Team and enjoyed a bit of professional ball in Europe and on the beach. She is married with two children and currently coaches high school beach and indoor volleyball.