If being the parent of an Olympian were itself an Olympic event, Lynn and Rick Raisman would win the Gold! They have become the world’s favorite Olympic mom and dad. What made us fall in love with the parents of Olympic medalist Aly Raisman? Why do we relate so vividly to every wince, every peek through fingers covering the eyes, every “I can’t watch this but I certainly can’t miss it” moment?
Why do we, all the parents who’ve never stepped foot inside an Olympic stadium, understand exactly what they are feeling?
Because we are parents. We feel it, too.
In a PEOPLE Magazine interview, Lynn says, “I get nervous because I know what goes into it and how many hours she’s prepared and how hard she is on herself, and I want her to be happy and go out there and do the best performance she can do.”
Not to grossly understate the work that goes into becoming a world class Olympian, but on a parent level, we get this.
We may never stand in an Olympic stadium holding our breath as our athlete — our child — flies through the air. Only a small handful of parents will ever have to suffer that beautiful torture! But every parent will stand on the side of her child’s “stage,” watching every move, remembering every ounce of the blood, sweat, and tears that led to this moment. We will hold our breath and pray for perfect execution and no mistakes. That “stage” won’t necessarily be a world athletic event and it will look different for every child. The “stage” is the dream, the goal, the hard work of life, and it is as unique as each dreamer.
When we first saw this video of the Raismans watching one of Aly’s events, my daughter exclaimed, “Mama, she is you! When you watched me compete, you only moved from the shoulders up but your neck and head covered just as much area!” Perhaps a slight exageration (or…not), but her comment made me think of all the times we and my fellow Irish dance moms and dads encouraged, coached, ached for, cried with, and celebrated the pursuit of a dream.
In a larger sense, however, I realized how those same experiences happen for all of us in different ways. My own daughter hasn’t worn her dance shoes in over two years, but her dreams are no less large. They’ve simply evolved and grown with her.
Why have Lynn and Rick Raisman become our favorite parents to watch? I’ve talked to several friends about what we see when we watch the Raismans. We all draw on our own experiences, but most of us can see ourselves somewhere in the humorous pictures.
What We See When We Watch The Raismans.
The Journey and Dedication and Hard Work
Though rare, it is possible to luck into the occasional success. However, it’s the commitment to do the hard work that sustains the result. Sometimes parents have to help set the goal and develop the plan. But wow, those times when a passion is born in your child and she shows you anew what it means to fight for a dream! Few things can compare to watching your child set an audacious goal, make a plan, and then work that plan with determination and dedication. In speaking of her middle child, my friend Katie summed this up perfectly:
To know that she believed in the journey, set her mind to the task and owned it, was reward enough.”
This applies to so much more than athletics and the competitive spirit. As parents, we have enough experiences under our belts to know how this type of commitment will reap results for a lifetime. However, realizing how much of themselves our children have invested in their dreams, we are all too aware of the pain of disappointment.
So, just like the Raismans and other parents the world over, we stand breathless on the side of the stage. We watch through our fingers. We pray for success. Yet we know the real value lies in the journey.
The Setbacks and Heartbreaks and Triumphs
No amount of passion and hard work will guarantee success every time. Life just doesn’t work that way. There will be losses, setbacks, and heartbreaks. But there will also be successes and triumphs. It is inexplicably sweet to witness the victory after the struggle.
The tough times aren’t without benefit, though, as Katie explains:
What resonates with me most is watching them when the chips are down and watching them not only fight through it, but triumph. Not only in dance but in ways I could have never imagined.”
Shawn, a dance teacher/coach/mom, expresses what every coach and every parent feels in this moment:
When dancers are able to work through their difficulties and get to a place where they are able to put their personal best on stage, there is quite frankly nothing better to witness as a teacher, coach or mom…no matter what the result. For me, to know their stories, the hours of training, the hours of physical therapy, and the hours of mental preparation, makes the experience that much more rich.”
The Courage and the Tears
My daughter faced her share of obstacles during her Irish dancing years: a fractured back, foot and ankle injuries that landed her in a boot four times, asthma and other issues that meant her lungs were receiving less than 35% of the oxygen required. It’s hard to compete at the champion level without oxygen!
Our scenario became routine: at the conclusion of her competition, I would meet her stage side with her inhaler in one hand and a water bottle in the other. Then I would unzip her dress several inches and fan her back and neck to cool her down while her breathing stabilized.
Just like we can empathize with the Raismans, other moms empathized with me. I will never forget the mom who whispered in my ear after a particularly difficult performance, “That was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.”
I have a friend whose daughter struggled with chronic illness, but her passion motivated her to give 100% even on the bad days. Heather says, “These struggles taught me just how much we learn from our kids. They don’t just learn from us.”'These struggles taught me how much we learn from our kids.' #parenting #courage #empathy Click To Tweet
The Encouragement and the Pep Talks
Sometimes the problems our children face are “quick fixes” and just a hug or short talk is enough to lift their spirits. Other times, the situation is more complicated. One young lady suffered an injury that sidelined her for several months. Her mom, Mary Kate, explained,
That was a whole new experience in patience. All we could do was wait until it healed… It took much longer than we thought. I had to remind myself that once she was healed, she just couldn’t pick up where she left off, it took months for her to get back up to speed… It was heartbreaking to watch her constant disappointment. We had many tears and many pep talks.”
The Sense of Accomplishment and Community
Ultimately, getting the win isn’t always the most enduring part of the journey, whatever the destination.
One athlete who broke her back went to every competition to support her teammates. This same young lady, during her own time of recovery, led an entire community in a fundraising event for a dancer paralyzed in a zip lining accident. This accomplishment was, according to her mother Katie, “…the real win. As a parent, I could not have been more proud in that moment.”Getting the win isn't always the most enduring part of the journey. #parenting #reallife Click To Tweet
Regardless of the dream your child is chasing, the relationships she builds along the way are an integral part of her journey. As parents, we want her to not only reach her personal goal, but to be the one who makes a positive difference to those around her. When we see our child achieve that goal, “victory” is redefined. I love how my friend Kris expresses it:
It became less about her (Kris’ daughter) as I grew to know more of the girls. Then they were all mine, and I loved watching every last one of them.”
Our children will chase many dreams and perform on many “stages.” They may become the president of a corporation, a voice for the oppressed, a stay-at-home mom. There is no dream bigger than the one your own child desires with all her heart. The journeys will be different but there is one sentiment that echoes through the heart of the parent:
I just want her to be happy with the result.”
And that is why we love the Raismans. Despite the difficulties of parenting an Olympic athlete, being happy with the result is a victory we can all share.
Kristen, my friend and fellow dance mom, states it perfectly. Substitute all the “dance” references with your child’s passion, and I think you will agree with her.
I LOVE to watch her dance!! It is what she loves to do. She might not be among the elite, but dancing is integral to who she is.
It is REALLY hard to watch your child have dreams that might not come true. Eventually, life moves on. Between college and injuries, achieving Open Champ status might have to wait even longer. That being said, we have met some wonderful role models who came back to their dreams as established adults. Your dreams can always be pushed a little further down the road.
I always think she’s the best dancer on the stage. I can’t help it. I’m her mom.”
Congratulations, Lynn and Rick, on winning the honorary Olympic Parenting Gold Medal! And thank you to my friends for helping me articulate why we love them!
What do YOU see when you watch parents cheering their children in pursuit of their dreams? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
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