By Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor
“I gave them each a blanket and said, “We’re leaving.” So recalls the mother of Lolo Jones, the Olympic hurdler whose family ended up homeless and living in a church basement after losing their home.
“Mom’s from Mexico City and she crossed the border in probably not the most legal way. She came to America to live the American dream,” says Olympic wrestler Henry Cejudo.
“My daughter had a questionable testosterone ratio,” admits the mother of Olympic volleyball player Kerri Walsh-Jennings recalling how she fought for her daughter after being almost eliminated from the Sydney games because of a marginal drug test result. “Life is not fair, but you have to fight.”
As the London air explodes with cheers and fanfare and inevitable drama of the 2012 Summer Olympics, the nation’s families will be gathered around the electronic hearth to watch amazing physical feats by amazing physical specimens. If you’re wondering how to make the watching of the Olympics more than thrilling entertainment and give your child something to think about, start with watching some of the tear extracting “Raising an Olympian” videos which profile the mother-child relationship of several Olympian athletes. (Yes, they’re sponsored by Proctor and Gamble so I feel like a corporate shill recommending them, but they're actually good!)
Nature or nurture? Probably both
Most Olympians were gifted by both unwavering ambition and God-given talent. But as the videos show, many had much more than that. Most had family members who sacrificed for their child’s dreams, usually starting with the mothers, who prepared the thousands of post practice snacks, drove the thousands of miles to wait in bleachers and supported their children’s emotions through the exhausting gauntlet of training, competition and dreaming big against all odds. Often these dreams were nurtured amidst poverty and divorce -- the very stressors that can make children fall away from their parents not toward them.
Now that I’m a mother, I realize that waiting on, teaching, comforting, dreaming big and (my least favorite) driving is normal mothering behavior -- though frankly some of these women seemed amped up on maternal steroids. Most of us engage in plenty of sacrificial labor and snack preparation with equal amounts of love and hope and pride.
Brilliant parenting or bizarro pressure?
But one has to wonder, is there anything different about these families that have allowed their children to excel? Is it all driven by their children’s inspiration and perspiration or do these families represent examples of brilliant parenting in action? Or, are they all type A stage mothers who have sacrificed their own and other children’s lives for their darling Olympian?
I used to believe the latter. The parent who pushed their kids toward this kind of extreme was probably a little off. After all, as the history of child entertainers can attest, raising an exceptional child doesn’t necessarily lead to raising a well-balanced adult.
But in an era when eye rolling, sarcasm and ennuie seems to be considered the norm once a child hits 13, these videos about kids who made the most of their parent’s love and commitment gave me something to think about. They also generated an provocative conversation with my two daughters cried right along with me. These videos may be designed to manipulate our emotions but they also offer a glimpse of family life we rarely hear about: the power of a positive bond between parents and kids. Showing kids examples of teens and young adults who appreciate all that their parents have done for them is a much-needed antidote to the dysfunctional norm of reality TV and internet tabloids.
After all, if Lolo Jones can glean Olympian lessons from her mother’s struggles with homelessness, then maybe our kids can too.