Parenting is Hard (What happened when my son gave up competitive hockey)

by Rahima Hirji, Toronto ON

Parenting is hard.  I have done a lot of things in my life.  I have worked 3 jobs to put myself through school.  I have gone through grief and trauma.  I struggled with infertility before finally being able to have my family. I have struggled with chronic illness. 

But actually, being a parent, day in and day out, is the hardest job I have ever had to do.

I try to set a good example for my children, I think all parents do. 

We all try to do what we think is right for our children.  To teach them well.  To instill a sense of integrity and morality.  But sometimes it’s hard to lead by example.  Sometimes you want to yell and scream and fight back when people behave poorly.  This happened recently in my family and when it was all over, I had to thank my son for being wiser than I am. 

My son Adam played competitive hockey for 3 years.  We fell into it.  We were approached when he was 7 while playing house league and asked if he wanted to try out for a competitive team.  We had no idea what we were getting into.  Neither my husband nor I ever played hockey and we can barely skate!  But Adam said he wanted to try out so he did. He made that team and then continued to play for the next three years. 

Adam is on the smaller side and is firmly a middle-of-the-pack player on his single A team. We had no visions of double or triple A for him but he worked hard, went to every practice, was always practicing on his off time and supported his team. But he isn’t a big kid and he isn’t an aggressive kid and those two things can’t be taught or practiced. This past year, he found a team that he really liked but anyone that knows hockey, knows that it can be full of drama, politics and deceit.  We thought we were past all that but we were wrong.  The coach let us know that Adam had a spot on his team for next year and if things changed, he would give us lots of notice.  Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way.  There are many more details to this story but this is not a hockey rant – it’s the aftermath I want to focus on. 

When I told Adam we would have to find him a new team, he was surprised but I didn’t have to tell him what happened, I could tell by the look on his face that he understood.

I told him not to worry, I had already contacted other teams and we would find him a team for next year but he looked at me and asked “Is this going to happen every year?” I told him yes, this would happen every year. Every year the top players move up to double A and the rest of the players get shuffled around to try to build better teams for the coming year.  It’s unfortunate but it’s how the league is run.  “Then I don’t want to play competitively anymore”.  His response left me speechless. I was stunned.  We spent hours at the rink.  We spent hours driving him to practice, to extra training, cheering on games and making small talk with other parents.  We were a hockey family.

I tried to dig a little deeper and he told me that he likes to play hockey but he didn’t want to be around the types of people that he had been around for the last two years. I explained to him that not all hockey coaches were the same.  I reminded him of his first coach, when he started playing hockey competitively and how much he liked him, but Adam’s mind was made up.  He said he would play the game for fun, with the community league in the backyard, he would play shinny but he wouldn’t go back to his old league.

As a hockey parent, this was tough. I love watching him play. I dedicated 10-15 hours a week to drive him to practice, games, shooting pads, and shinny. It was a part of my identity too. I thought he would change his mind, but he didn’t. Weeks went by. We got emails and phone calls from coaches looking for players (because in hockey, you never know who you can trust until the player cards are signed and the coaches aren’t the only ones that renege on backdoor deals– and remember these are 10-year-old boys!).  One of the calls that came last week was from the top team in the division, looking for a defenseman – I tried to entice Adam to check it out, “It’s the best team in the division buddy, just meet the coach!” but he refused. He said he liked his life better without the stress of hockey. 

And I am beginning to see the wisdom in his decision.  All of this has been happening for over a month, and throughout that month, a strange thing has happened.  My family is more relaxed. 

Both boys are going rock climbing together with their father weekly. Adam loves rock climbing but could never go before with his busy hockey schedule. Yesterday they were playing Monopoly after school! We have been going on family bike rides. I have been able to spend more time with my oldest son, who was often left at home, doing his homework or practicing violin on his own while we were at the rink with Adam.  Adam is running the upcoming Sporting Life 10k with us and is training with his dad. We have more time to play games and eat dinner together. Adam still plays competitive soccer so he still has the opportunity to be part of team sport but there is no drama in soccer (at least there hasn’t been any drama yet!). We have already looked into skiing as a family for next Winter – something we could never do while Adam played hockey. 

Life is better without hockey for my family – but we never would have made this decision on our own. 

Our life is better now and it’s better because of the choice my son made. I never would have asked him to stop playing hockey.  I knew it took a toll on the family but I would have rearranged my schedule, driven him all over the city and spent the summer finding hockey camps to support him. When all of this came down at the end of March, I was livid. I was hell bent on finding Adam another team and if I had anything to do with it, it was going to be better than his old team and I would have succeeded!  That’s what I do. I don’t give up.

But then I had to listen to my child.

Adam made his decision and refused to budge. I wasn’t  trying to change his mind because I wanted him to play (okay, maybe a part of me wanted him to play), I just wanted to make sure he was making the decision for the right reasons. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t afraid of being rejected from another team. I needed him to understand that this was not a situation  that was unique to him – there were many, many kids that were put in the same situation as Adam was. Parents and coaches just shrug and says “that’s hockey” and so the cycle perpetuates itself every year. I needed to make sure he understood it wasn’t about him.  Finally, after discussing it (to death, according to Adam…), he said “Mummy, I am fine. Stop worrying about me. I don’t need to play hockey so badly to deal with all the stuff that comes with it.  I love other things too, I want to do those things instead. Stop worrying Mummy!”.

I looked at him and I knew he was telling the truth. He is better than fine. Sometimes you have these moments where you look at your child and you think you just might be doing this parenting thing right after all, especially when your child surprises you with the insight and maturity that you can’t even find in yourself.

So next year, you won’t find me freezing in a rink, drinking arena coffee, while checking in on my other son at home. Instead you’ll find my whole family on the ski hills and in the chalets, drinking hot chocolate and enjoying some precious family time, all thanks to Adam.

Rahima Hirji is a Naturopathic Doctor with a practice in Toronto and co-owner of Sage Naturopathic Clinic in Kitchener.  She is a mom of two very active boys aged 11 and 13, a wife, a sister and a daughter amongst many others!   Read more about her life at www.buildingmybetterlife.com or visit her website www.drrahima.com



Comments

4 Responses to “Parenting is Hard (What happened when my son gave up competitive hockey)”

  1. Hayley says:

    What a great story, thank you for sharing! My daughter dances competitively and it’s interesting how much it can become a part of the parent’s identity as well. It’s a hard thing to leave once you’ve started, and I think it’s amazing that your son was able to dig deep and make the right decision for himself. Enjoy all of your new-found freedom and family time! 🙂

  2. Nadia says:

    Thanks for sharing. It was a tough decision to make for a young boy. I am glad that the family is feeling fine after this big change.

  3. Mel says:

    Thanks so much for sharing. Something I think we can all learn from. I also love how much you’re family is outdoors doing things – biking is one of our favourite things to do as a family!

  4. Teresa says:

    Very nice. I so respect how the author listened to her son and respected his decision.

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