Raising An Olympian: Lessons I've Learned From My Parents

 
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Parenthood is the ultimate balance of holding on and letting go.  

I am an Olympic gold medalist (Swimming, 2000) and 7 x NCAA All-American, and my husband played collegiate baseball. We've undoubtedly been shaped by the opportunities and experiences in our athletic careers; we learned how to be teammates, drive toward goals, sacrifice, handle feedback and failure, and honed many skills that continue to serve us as partners, parents, coaches and entrepreneurs.

The sporting arena has given us so much, it seems only natural for us to want that for our four girls.

And. We both know: it’s not about us anymore. This is their journey. It’s their turn to follow their dreams.

Even though both of us are still immersed in the sporting arena – as coaches - entering as a parent has been quite the ride - and my oldest is only eight.

Deciding which sports. Scheduling. Organizing. Getting all the proper equipment. (Hello, hockey!) Learning the ins and outs of the chosen sports. It can all feel so overwhelming – especially if we’re trying to do it the ‘right’ way.

There is no right way.

And, there's a lot I've learned from my parents about raising an Olympian.

Here are the top five lessons I’ve carried with me into the messy and beautiful journey that is parenting:

 

1. Believe.

 My parents never put a cap on my imagination – even when my dreams sounded impossibly far away. When I told them about my dream to become an Olympic swimmer – before I made the swim team – they held space for me. They let me turn the walls of my bedroom into a living vision board – where I would fall asleep to quotes like this one: “When we follow our dreams, we discover the magic that is within ourselves.”

I never felt pressured by my parents to chase down a dream – or go after a specific goal.

I am so grateful they gave me the space to figure out what it was that I wanted to do.

 

2. Show them what it looks like.

Even if they aren’t listening – they are watching.

My parents' journey started as pregnant teens - my dad left behind a football scholarship and college education to run the family business and raise his family; my mother was forced to homeschool her senior year of high school until my older brother was born.  Talk about messy.  Talk about hard.

They set goals anyway - for themselves - for our family.  And, together, they chipped away at their dreams.

They didn’t just say – show up and do the work – they showed me what that looked like.

 

3. Let them fail + feel. And then help them get back up.

 We will fall short. We will fail.  If we try to protect our kids from seeing our disappointment + struggle, we’ll miss an opportunity to teach them how to get back up.  

As a mother of four, I completely understand the desire to protect and shield our children from seeing our pain – and from feeling it themselves. And, as an Olympic Gold Medalist – and as someone who’s battled through an eating disorder, depression, perfection, anxiety and PTSD – I know our power lies in our ability to rise.  

There’s no level of achievement that protects us from the curveballs of life.  We’ll fall. And no matter how hard we try, we can’t protect ourselves from feeling pain.

We CAN help them strengthen their emotional resilience by strengthening our own. 

 

4. Worthy, without conditions.

My parents never micromanaged. They never obsessed or paid attention to my times or cuts – and never, ever talked about what other swimmers were doing in the pool. Their only expectation:

Try your best.

I am so grateful they never obsessed over the details of my journey.  They trusted in the process, which in turn allowed me to do the same. Their unconditional love + belief in me was a true gift - providing me the space + support I needed to realize my childhood dream.  

We are not our failures. A bad swim does not mean I am bad; it means my swim was bad. We are not our successes. A good swim doesn’t mean I am good; it means my swim was good. We are not our struggles. A shoulder injury doesn’t mean I am broken; it means my shoulder is injured.

Our worthiness of love and belonging is not attached to conditions.

 

5. No more secrets in sport. Advocate.

 It’s hard to know where the line is – between being over-involved and too hands off. I’ll say this is one area my parents wish they had navigated differently. At 14, my club coaches used sexually inappropriate language about my body – privately and in front of my teammates. I remember feeling so uncomfortable – and retreating inward. I wanted to disappear.

Here’s the hard part. I hid this from my parents. I was too afraid to tell them – the shame silenced me for years. But, when I started getting kicked out of practice (on purpose) – and told my mom I wanted to quit, she knew something was going on. She didn’t know the details – but she knew something was off. And so, I changed club teams.

I think about this often, now that I’m raising four girls. As athletes, we rely on feedback from coaches about our physical bodies – we want to get stronger and faster. To become better athletes. So, how do we empower our kids to respectfully listen – AND – speak up? 

I certainly don't have all the answers. Here's what I do know.

We can't control all the things. What we can control ::

Creating a culture at home that's toxic to shame. And. Seeking out spaces - athletic and otherwise - that do the same.

We encourage our just-turned-eight-year-old to journal about her emotions and experiences. Shame cannot survive sharing - which is why we’ve implemented a rule in our house:

There are no secrets in sports or at school. Or really, in life.

We openly share fears, doubts and talk about our feelings.

One of the most powerful things we can do is provide a non-threatening space for our kids to share with us. And remind them that they are loved, without conditions.

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~ THANK YOU mom and dad ~ 

 
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Samantha Arsenault Livingstone is an Olympic Gold Medalist, transformational speaker, high performance coach and mother of four girls. She is also the founder of Livingstone High Performance, LLC. and the online coaching course Rise Free Academy. 

Samantha empowers women to cultivate the courage and resilience needed to unapologetically step into their light. She inspires, empowers and equips her clients with the skills needed to let go of beliefs that are keeping them stuck - so they can achieve their own gold medal moments - AND - open the door for freedom, balance and joy that transcends.

Samantha candidly shares her battles with her inner critic, depression, perfection, PTSD and parenting as a working mother because she believes in the transformative power of story – and the strength that comes from knowing we are not alone. She is on a mission to pay forward all that she’s learned to help others find joy and live free.
  
A mama of heart warrior and mama of twins, Samantha and her husband, Rob, live in the Berkshires with their four girls. You can learn more about Samantha at www.samanthalivingstone.com.