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Gold Medal Family

August 3, 2021

Pressure To Perform

You’ve probably seen the Olympic coverage of Simone Biles and her decision to withdraw from the gymnastics competitions to prioritize her mental health. 

Coming into the 2021 Olympic Games, some say Biles had the weight of the world on her shoulders as “the one to beat” in female gymnastics. Additionally, I can only imagine the pressure she felt to represent her country well and not disappoint all who were cheering for her. 

She enthusiastically began the team competition, but after some trouble at the vault, she made the decision to take a step back to practice mindfulness and prevent the possibility of a physical injury. 

In a follow-up interview with reporters, Biles said, “I say put mental health first, because if you don’t, then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to. So, it’s OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself, because it shows how strong of a competitor and person you really are, rather than just battle through it.” 

Her choice came as a shock to many and has been met with a wide range of reactions. 

It caused me to reflect on two things—first, kudos to Simone. It takes real guts to speak up and say, “I’m not doing well,” especially in such a public arena, knowing some people will think you made the right decision while others will be critical. 

The second thing that hit me—someone taught Simone it’s OK to speak up. They showed her that her value and worth as a person isn’t defined by her performance, which I believe is an important reminder for all of us. 

Faced with similar circumstances, many would be so fearful of the consequences they would try to power through. 

In her book, “Hold Me Tight,” clinical psychologist, researcher, and professor, Dr. Sue Johnson, says we are all striving for emotional connection in our relationships. We are looking to answer the questions, “Can I count on you, depend on you? Are you there for me? Will you respond to me when I call? Do I matter to you? Am I valued and accepted by you? Do you need me, rely on me?” From the cradle to the grave, it’s crucial that we feel supported by those around us, and we know that their love for us isn’t contingent on our last performance, especially on days when we might not put our best foot forward. 

Helping our children understand that our love for them and approval of them isn’t dependent upon how they act on any given day might be one of the greatest gifts we can give to them as parents. 

Every person that walks this earth, including you and me, needs to know their identity is not dependent upon circumstances like a career skyrocket or flop; it doesn’t ebb and flow with the latest performance review or bad day. Instead, our identities are entirely dependent upon who God says we are and who God is. And the good news of the gospel is He has adopted us into His family and given us His righteousness. As followers of Jesus, we are approved by God because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us—not because of any work we’ve done or could ever possibly do. 

Consider having a conversation with your children using Simone as an example, and ask the following questions. You might be surprised by their responses. 

1. Do you feel pressure to perform? 

As parents, you can sometimes put pressure on your kids without realizing it, especially the implicit pressure of being associated with parents whose names bring recognition. I know at times our daughter, Ashley, felt the weight of being recognized as Julie and Jay’s daughter and the expectations that came along with being a part of our family. Showing up and being seen as “so and so’s daughter or son” or the sibling coming behind others can be stifling at times. 

Are you projecting your hopes and dreams onto your children instead of letting them explore their own passions and pursuits? It can be easy to bulldoze their passions with well-meaning guidance that doesn’t account for who they’re becoming. Just because your child is good at something doesn’t necessarily mean they enjoy doing it. 

2. What do you think you could do that would make us love you more or less? 

Sometimes, without realizing it, your kids may get the impression that your love for them is contingent on their behavior. You know this isn’t true, but when challenging times happen in your family, your children may misinterpret what they’re experiencing. Therefore, communication is so vital. Be clear about your love for them. Tell them, and show them you love them. Even in moments where consequences are in play, your words and actions can demonstrate unconditional love. 

3. What does it mean to be a child of God? 

Is your love for your kids pointing them to God’s love and purposes for them? In our imperfect love, we have the perfect opportunity to remind our kids of God’s all-sufficient care for them and their secure, never-changing identity in His love for them. 

As we care for our children and our spouses, we can work toward unconditional love and support. In our family, no matter what, you’re Team Baumgardner. No matter what, you’re a child of God. No matter what, you belong with us. This kind of belonging leads to security and a space to flourish and grow. It helps us know we can speak up when we’re not OK, even if we risk disappointing some. 

That’s a gold medal family. 

This blog was written by Julie Baumgardner, Senior Director of WinShape Marriage. 

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