I have a 10-year-old son from a previous marriage and I’ve been remarried to “John” for about a year. John has no kids and I think he’s not quite sure how to get to know my son. Lately, John has decided to “bond” with my son by going to his basketball games. But here’s the problem: John is very loud on the sidelines, telling my son to try harder, score more baskets and work miracles on defense. While my son likes the attention, I think he feels tremendous pressure to perform in order to win John’s love. He often cries when he makes mistakes or loses. He never did this before. While it’s nice that John is taking an interest in my son, I’m worried about how this will play out in the long run. Any advice?
Remarried Sports Mom
Dear Remarried Sports Mom:
Your story is actually quite common. Often, stepparents see sports as a great way to bond with their kids. But I’ve heard many stories about stepdads—and stepmoms—who go overboard at sporting events. They pressure their stepkids way too much. And you’re right, often kids feel they have to “perform” in order to win the stepparent’s love. You might want to visit www.stepfamilytalkradio.com and listen to “When Perfectionist Partners Hurt Your Kids.”
Dr. Arthur Ciaramicoli, Harvard Medical School instructor and author of "Performance Addiction,” says that stepparents who focus so much on performance can undermine stepfamily happiness. However, he says, these parents often are very well-meaning. The stepparents don’t understand how kids interpret their behavior. In this case, he suggests that parents like you have a frank talk with your spouse. Explain how your husband is affecting your child.
You may also want to visit The Ultimate Sports Parent (www.youthsportspsychology.com), which offers a free ebook about youth sports psychology. (You could share it with your husband). Sports kids need positive support—not pressure. Seventy-five percent of all young athletes drop out of sports by the time they are 13. That’s because they’re not having fun.
In many ways, your husband is on the right track. It’s a good idea for stepparents to bond with stepkids by focusing on the stepkids’ interests. The problem, however, is that your husband isn’t supporting your son. He’s pressuring him.
Good luck and stay in touch.