How do I maintain healthy family relationships whilst supporting my child in elite sport?
How do I maintain healthy family relationships whilst supporting my child in elite sport?

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Dear Christians in sport,

My son has been competing in triathlon for a number of years and is on a regional academy. It’s exciting to see the opportunities he gets through the academy as he continues to improve – but it requires a great deal of investment from us as parents to support him. I also have two other children who aren’t sporty – it's hard to show them that they’re loved when their passions don’t require the same level of sacrifice from us as parents to support. How can we as parents pursue healthy relationships with the whole family when one child is on an elite sport pathway?

This is a tricky issue for many parents, so let’s get straight into the Bible to start, psalm 127:3 says:

“Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.”

The psalmist is saying that ‘Children are a gift from God.’ This means that fundamentally our children are actually His, first and foremost. The word ‘Heritage’ is used to describe our children as being God’s special possession handed down to us to look after.

So parenting is an awesome responsibility and wonderful privilege, and sometimes it really feels like that too! At other times you might feel the tension in the relationship, the conflict can last for hours, days, weeks and even months. There are disappointments on both sides of the relationship and the feeling of guilt that you’re complete failures as parents can have a strangle hold on life. A gift from God? Really?

Now throw into the mix a child who happens to be very good at sport. It’s a potential recipe for disaster - threatening to jeopardise your relationships with your spouse and other children.

Let's recognise some of the pressure points which can impact these relationships:

  • Time; it is highly likely that more time will be spent with the child on a sports pathway than the others that aren't. Driving to and being present at competitions/training can mean substantial time away from the rest of the family.
  • Focus; There’s a higher demand for attention around sport. It’s often the go-to subject in conversation. Chat around success, failure, anxiety can dictate the mood and vibe in the family. Sport gets in the way of other things; family holidays, church, days out, bed-times. The focus around sport can prove to be a contentious issue in a family
  • Money; Some sports really cost! The equipment. The petrol. The diet. Understandably this can be a source of envy for other siblings that bubbles underneath before exploding in a tirade of unkind words, expressing feelings of being sidelined.

So how do we pursue healthy relationships with our spouse and all of our children when one of them is on an elite sport pathway?

Here’s a few things to chew over;

Communication; Rich, intentional, listening and talking to your children is the glue in a healthy relationship. Above all else it’s vital to communicate your intention to unconditionally love each one of your children, regardless of their performance or interests, just as God love for you is unconditional and unmerited. There will be times of disagreement, of conflict and anxiety but these things can be resolved in a relationship that is open to talk. This doesn’t happen by accident. It starts and continues with words of affirmation and affection that are backed up by action which is often unseen.

Learn to listen to your children. Put down your phone, switch off the TV and listen to the words that are spoken and to those that aren’t! Patiently pursue conversation every day as far as they’re comfortable with. Ask them how they feel about ‘Billy’ the sporty one. Here’s a few ways you can prioritise time with all of your children:

- Arrange key meal times.

- Talk together over food.

- Be deliberate! Make the effort to be present in the conversation.

Pray; together! With your spouse! With your children collectively and separately. Can you create a normal atmosphere of speaking to God in the joys, in the trials, whilst laughing and through tears. Cultivate these times and if they don’t feel normal, keep doing it until they do. And start now! Could you carve out five minutes a day to pray as a family, or 1-2-1 with each of your children?

Ground yourself in gospel truths.

You can’t do this. You will fail. Your children might feel let down, excluded and even unloved…but you have the living Lord Jesus within to lift you up and keep you loving when all your energy has been used up.

Remember and rehearse;

God is great so you don’t have to always be in control.

God is glorious so you don’t have to fear what others think.

God is good so don’t despair when things aren't so good.

God is gracious so you don’t have to prove yourself as a parent.

Isaiah 40 is a brilliant place to go for assurance as you preach these things to yourself!

Keep going and keep trusting God …your children need you!

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