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If I’m honest, parenthood has made a hypocrite of me. Thankfully, I’m not alone in this.

Two years ago or so, in a chat with a dear friend from graduate school, the discussion moved as it so often does to our children. We hadn’t seen each other in a while; a work trip took me to her hometown. I asked her about Nora*, her dramatic and smart daughter. I can’t remember all she told me, but there was one line I’ll never forget:

“She got the best of both of us. She has my hair, but not my jaw and she has her dad’s rosebud mouth. Thank goodness, she’s a lot prettier than I am.”

I was stunned. The speaker, my friend Judy*, is brilliant, competitive, strong, ambitious, funny, and unwavering in her loyalty. Is she pretty? I adore her, so I think she’s pretty. She, like me, is attractive enough to get by and not be discriminated against, but she’s not notably pretty, if you know what I mean. Nor did she ever make prettiness her calling card or top priority. Recognizing early on that she’d never be regarded as a great beauty, she directed her prodigious talents and energy elsewhere.

Yet there she sat, confessing her happiness at her daughter’s superior looks. I might have been glancingly surprised, but I wasn’t offended. If anything, Judy’s confession underscored a hard truth many of us face: that our stated values don’t always match what we want for our kids. We might say looks don’t matter, we might teach our kids the same, and we (hopefully) do not make assumptions about people based on their appearance. But when we are alone with our thoughts, we know how much easier the world is to navigate for girls if they are pretty, and we want this for our daughters. Right or wrong, fairly or not. It’s just how it is.

Now it’s my turn. The natural offshoot of my childhood lack of athletic ability was to disregard the value of sports. I don’t think I ever called anyone a dumb jock out loud, but I sure as heck thought it a lot. Unless you are the next Jordan, Beckham, Nadal, etc. isn’t being really, really smart and having good grades better and more important in the long run than being good at sports? That’s the notion I consoled myself with.

I continued to tell myself this right up until the time that Simon’s interest and ability in sports began to emerge. Now I’m the mom cheering on at and providing transportation to JCC basketball, YMCA basketball, Highland Youth Recreation League (HYR) soccer, HYR t-ball, Lenny K swimming, Louisville Tennis Center open clinics, and 4Kicks soccer in the parks sessions. I feel a surge of pride and joy every time Simon makes a goal or basket, returns a serve, hits a ball across the field, or swims across the pool.

I have no idea if he’s good or just interested and coachable, but I’m not-so-secretly hoping he’ll be good at something or maybe even a few things.

Why? Because he’s a boy, and his school years will be that much easier and happier if he is decent at sports. He’ll have more friends. He’ll have more social mobility. Right or wrong, fairly or unfairly. It’s just the way it is.

And given the choice between character building via adversity or social success, I have yet to meet a parent who would choose the former. In one way or another, we all become hypocrites when we look at our kids.

*Judy and Nora are not their real names, but for those wondering if I’m talking about a certain Yallie with fiery red hair, the answer is yes.

One Response to “Values: Public and Private”

  1. Amanda says:

    It’s not hypocritical to want the best for your child, and in our society there are some hard truths. Boys who do well at sports tend to be bullied and picked on less. Pretty girls, while they have their own set of issues, are at least spared some of the worst bullying. As someone who is neither pretty nor not-pretty, as an adult I have come to peace with all this. My aunt always said, I will never mind if my son is gay, but for his sake I hope he isn’t, because life is so much harder. Wanting to spare your child some pain is normal.

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