Competitive Parents: Softball Mom

Competitive Parents: Softball Mom
A mother who is driven to help her children succeed asks Dr. Phil if she is being too pushy.
"My kids have to be number one," insists April, who has decided that she wants her 16-year-old son, Zachary, to be a famous actor and her 13-year-old daughter, Amanda, to be a softball star — without taking their opinions or desires into account.

"When Zack doesn't take being an actor seriously, it frustrates me and I lecture him," says April. "My dream for Amanda is for her to play softball in high school and get a scholarship to college ... I often get into confrontations with coaches ... but I believe my effort is helping Amanda meet her goals. Sometimes she cries. She gets upset with me."

April insists that her children's activities are not about having fun. "When you play a competitive sport, it's competitive ... I try to teach them that mediocre is not enough ... But my kids don't want to be around me. Dr. Phil, am I pushing my kids too hard to be number one?"

When asked how her mother's behavior at softball games makes her feel, 13-year-old Amanda says, "When my mom yells at me, it makes me feel embarrassed. I try to block it out but it's hard. It makes me nervous and not play the game right. It makes me think I don't know what I'm doing, but I really do. It makes me just want to quit and not play softball any more."

Zack, 16, says, "Trying your hardest isn't good enough for [my mother]. I'm afraid to tell her how I feel. Acting is something I like to do, but it's more of a hobby right now. I resent how she pushes me ... I'm thinking that I'm doing this just to make my mom happy. What would make me happy would be to make my own decisions and learn from my own mistakes."

April's husband Clyde says, "My greatest fear with April pushing the children is that they're going to lead an unhappy life that she has forced them into."
"I didn't realize they were so unhappy," April says to Dr. Phil.

"That's because you're not listening," says Dr. Phil.

Dr. Phil asks Amanda, "How does it feel when you're out there playing and doing your best and she's screaming criticisms through the fence?"

"It makes me feel mad and embarrassed because all my friends think she's crazy and wacko," says Amanda.

"I just say what every other parent is afraid to say," says April.

"No, they're not afraid to say it," says Dr. Phil. "They just have what we call impulse control. That's not a fear response. They just say, 'This is about [the children], not about me.' You know what my reaction was when I saw [your behavior at the softball game]? You might as well have been behind the backstop yelling, 'Everybody, look at me!' I think you absolutely thrive on the attention. I think you've forgotten that the game is about the children, not about the parents."
Dr. Phil tells April, "Psychologically and performance wise, you're not helping your children ... both kids are telling you they're burned out because you're running your agenda instead of theirs. You're robbing them of ownership because they look to you for it. You're the driver and the motivator. Therefore, they're not."

Dr. Phil continues, "It's called intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. If there is big external motivation, kids never develop internal motivation. If you're yelling and screaming and driving and pushing, they'll never find it themselves and become self-starters and take ownership and pride in what they're doing. You're taking that away from them by running your own agenda. If you stop that and let them do it, they will find their own way. Maybe it will be acting or softball and maybe it won't. But you're cheating them out of the chance to do that. And you're undermining their confidence along the way."