Olympics and Motherhood

The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang are here! I’ve always loved the Olympics, though my viewing patterns have dramatically varied throughout the years. As a young girl, I remember my mom loved, loved, loved the opening ceremonies (and now I do too) and many of the most popular sports. We’d have the TV on all day during the Olympics and would watch as much as we could. As a (former) athlete myself, I couldn’t help but wonder if I too could be an Olympian one day. The Olympics provided me joy, and hope, and epitome of respectful competition, and the visual of true, unbridled unity. 

The Opening Ceremonies were always fun to watch, though I may not have watched them in their entirety. I loved the uniforms and native attire the athletes wore during the parade of nations. I loved hearing the host country’s music and seeing the performances they delivered. That shared joy and excitement created a sense of unity throughout the stadium and, while perhaps it was only in my mind, I believed that joy, excitement, and unity encompassed the whole world! As we were able, the world watched. And even in countries that did not have the capacity to actually view the Ceremony, I believed they could feel it - they knew the world was united, even if only for a few hours. A little grand of an idea? Sure. But, it was fun to dream!

I played many sports growing up but softball was my main jam. I was lucky to play for some really great teams, with some really great gals which enabled me to attend a few National-level tournaments (three in my younger years and one in college). The opening ceremonies varied significantly between these tournaments, but I vividly remember the opening ceremony for the tournament in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when I was sweetly 16. We had a team banner and paraded around the track in our white sleeveless shirts, maroon shorts, and our super-cool hats with the back-half cut out so that we could still have ponytails. I don’t remember where we stood in the procession, but I just remember being overcome by amazement - all of these girls from all over the country and their families are here for the same reasons. We’ve all practiced hard, we’ve all traveled, we’ve all made sacrifices for this main event - Nationals. Despite all of our differences, we were all there, together, united under the umbrella of softball. It was mesmerizing. 

 That's me! First row behind the banner, walking next to my good friend "O"! Oh the memories...this whole experience was so surreal. 

That's me! First row behind the banner, walking next to my good friend "O"! Oh the memories...this whole experience was so surreal. 

This sounds like some people’s experiences when welcoming a new baby - despite our differences, we’re all there, together, united under the umbrella of (insert newborn baby’s name). It was mesmerizing. 

Olympic Truce and Children

It was said that everyone looked forward to the Ancient Olympic Games. People came from far and wide to watch the Games. Political rhetoric ceased. War paused. Safe travel flourished. In the 9th Century BC in the birthplace of the Olympics, Greece, three kings signed a treaty and started the tradition of the “ Olympic Truce” or “Ekecheiria”. 

Perhaps you’ve never considered it before, so walk with me on this. I want you to think about how adding a new child to a family can also feel like the embodiment of truce. Feuds and family frustrations can be set aside, whether permanently or temporarily, so that all may share in the joy and excitement of a family’s new child. Similar to the Olympics, families must prepare for this through conversation, expectation management and how to handle when things don’t go as planned (defeat or injury), travel plans, and visualization (anticipating how the main event may go). Continuing with the analogy, every athlete or family member prepares for their main event - though each contestant uses different techniques or training schedules. Each athlete or family member prepares differently, but each participant generally follows the same guidelines and all pursue the vision of achieving his/her desired end state. For an Olympian, that desired end state is standing atop the medal stand with a huge, heavy medal of gold dangling from his/her neck, with a few tears coming from his/her eye as the whole stadium stands still to hear the anthem from that Gold Medalist’s nation. For a parent, that desired end state may be the moment when the world stops, a tear of joy and pleasant disbelief appears, and she finally meets her new child. 

Just like a truce, sometimes we need to set our feuds aside. Don’t get me wrong, this can be very hard to do! But, it might be worth it. Sometimes we need to call a truce in order to reach and achieve our desired end state. The truce may be temporary, long enough for a mother to help her daughter in the days after her grandchild arrives, or it may be permanent and feuds can be set aside to create a path of unity. Maybe this is why we give our children, a source of family unity, the nickname “sport”.

Despite our differences, we’re all there, together, united under the umbrella of this child. It is mesmerizing.

But the Olympic Truce is not bulletproof. Neither is the hope of family repair through a new baby. Despite the planning, the conversation, the Truce, the dreams, the excitement, War caused the cancellation of five Olympic Games (1916 for WWI, 1940 Summer and Winter for WWII and 1944 Summer and Winter for WWII). This demonstrates that despite the calls for hope and peace, a truce is not always feasible, nor is it the best solution. 

“Sport alone cannot enforce or maintain peace. But, it has a vital role to play in building a better and more peaceful world.” ~ Dr. Jacques Rogge, IOC President, October 2007

Motherhood and Sports

Last week, in the Experiences In Motherhood Group, we talked about the Olympics and motherhood. Specifically, I asked for some similarities and some differences between sports and motherhood. You may have some thoughts of your own, but here are some of the responses to that question: 

“Both involve failure and success, reveal personal strengths and weaknesses, and require practice and endurance. Sports are a game but raising a human being is anything but that and a huge responsibility” ~ Holly

“There’s always a plan/goal but sometimes you have to punt and hope for the best” ~ Maureen

“Mothering is like baseball: sometimes you swing and miss. Sometimes you drop the ball. But everyday you’ve got to run around those bases and there is nothing like the feeling of sliding into home” ~ Wendy

“I’m like a referee between three kids on a field playing three different sports! I have three completely different kids with totally different needs. The same core needs, yes. But, I’ve had to adjust my thinking to meet each athlete (child) where they are. I can’t give soccer rules to the kid playing basketball!” ~ Misty

“Both sports and parenting require unbelievable amounts of determination and a desire to achieve greatness. Training never ends. You can’t win every competition, what would the challenge be there. Sometimes you have training setbacks - I call them the teenage years.” ~ Amy

“The team is the family. There are captains or co-captains, the parents. Everyone has different personalities, suited for different positions on the field/court. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains. At the end of the day, you’re all on the same team.” ~ Leigh

“With any sport, you are constantly making adjustments to your technique, tweaking things, analyzing how to make yourself better. You gain confidence the longer you do something.” ~ Sara S.

With parenting, “you have to pick yourself up and just keep going. No time for a pity party. With sports you can take a break for a season…motherhood, not so much!” ~ Sarah B.

“Every athlete I know eventually left their sport for one reason or another. You can’t walk away from your kids when you’ve had enough!” ~ Linda

“Each player has his own talents, abilities, challenges, and technique, and as the coach it’s a constant learning process to help them achieve their best self and make sure the team is working together!” ~ Kerry

My good friend and West Point classmate, Erica McCarthy, knows and (dare I say shares) my love for detailed graphics. So, instead of trying to type words to answer this question, she wrote a Venn diagram! I was so inspired by her efforts, that I wanted to replicate it (and use the pun of the Olympic Rings). The below graphic compares many of the similarities and differences between the Olympics and Motherhood. Thanks Erica! 

 How are motherhood and the Olympics (or sports in general) similar? How are they different? 

How are motherhood and the Olympics (or sports in general) similar? How are they different? 

The Olympics and Mothers

The last thought I’m going to leave you with today is the comparison of mothers and the Olympics. We all come to motherhood from different paths, different backgrounds, different experiences, different cultures, different reasons. But, despite these differences, we are mothers.

We train differently. We prepare differently. We focus on different skillsets. We practice at different times. Sometimes we even interpret the rules and guidelines differently. We wear different uniforms and use different equipment sets. We have different numbers of training distractors and training aides. We have different goals, dreams, and visions.  

Yet, despite our differences, we’re all there, together, united under the umbrella of motherhood. It is mesmerizing.

Stay blessed, 

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Kari Haravitch