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Why I Don’t Want My Daughter To Do Gymnastics

I always said that if I had a son, he would not play football. In my mind, the risk of concussions or serious injuries far outweighed any potential benefit. Well, I do have a son and still stand firm in my conviction.

Gymnastics, however, was not a sport I thought much about – that is, until my daughter deemed it her most favorite after-school activity ever.

See, I grew up with a mother who worked as a hospital nurse and then as a school nurse. She forbade my sister and me from ever jumping on trampolines or even sharing food with friends, regularly citing emergency room and school clinic statistics. My high school friends laughed at my toilet hovering techniques. I went – and admittedly still go – to safety and sanitary extremes. For me, football always fell into a category I deemed too dangerous to even try. Gymnastics did not.

I began taking my daughter to a gymnastics class when she was six months old. Obviously, the class was more for me than it was for her. I used it as an excuse to get out of the house and meet other moms. As the years progressed, however, the classes began to transition from ball tosses and coordination exercises to actual gymnastic stunts, which my daughter – to my horror – eagerly embraced. Yep, she was that two-year-old swinging from the bars or hanging upside down on that 1980s beehive-looking playground equipment at the neighborhood park. She lives for adventure, and dares are her thing. She regularly asked me to show her how to climb a tree – like I knew how to do that. Who is this kid, and where did she come from? I may have birthed her, but her fearlessness certainly is not from me.

I was a dancer. Dance is safe. The most I ever saw in dance were sprained ankles and broken toes. Okay, there was that one time when a girl on my drill team broke her leg, but a broken leg pales in comparison to what could potentially happen when, say, flinging oneself off of a balance beam.

So I enrolled my daughter in dance. Yet, tutus and tap shoes weren’t her. For more than two years, she begged me to put her back in gymnastics and all the while, continued to practice stunts without the direction or supervision of a coach. I hesitated then finally relented, cringing at every practice.

Then, of course, I happen to stumble across a news story about a five-year-old girl who is now paralyzed after over-extending her back during “a simple backbend.” The article did refer to the girl’s injuries as an “uncommon occurrence,” but all the same, proved the risk does exist.

So again, I find myself straddling the beam on whether or not my daughter should continue with this pursuit. Her passion is so strong, stronger than any passion I have ever known. She loves the sport and practices every day. Yet as her mother, my job is to protect her. Would I be doing that, knowing stories about paralyzed gymnasts exist?

If I do take her out, would I – or would she – live with regret? What if she was supposed to be the next Simone Biles, and I kept her from that? I wonder how Simone’s parents felt as their daughter propelled herself into infinity during the games this past summer. 

Should I stand by my daughter or by my gut? Who chooses your children’s activities – you or them?

One Response to Why I Don’t Want My Daughter To Do Gymnastics

  1. Alice Denny January 13, 2017 at 1:57 am #

    First, life is full of risk. Anything we do can and might hurt us. That said, I want to address another issue this article brought up. “What if my child is supposed to be the next Simone Biles?”

    I watch my wise daughter being the kind of mom I wish I had been. She lets her little girls be what they want to be. We have a huge collection of costumes, some homemade, some bought and some found at yard sales. We never know from day to day or even from minute to minute how they will dress or what their new story is. Foxes, monsters, Batman, Woody, Paw Patrol, shark, dolphin, giraffe or puppy. One or two under used princess dresses as well. They assign us “parts” in their story; Mama Batman, Buzz, hunter, doctor or patient. My daughter says they get to “live their own stories”, which is exactly true. We are always surprised when they wear “normal” clothing on trips to the store or library. She encourages their interests as well by keeping art and craft supplies available, All kinds of riding and pushing and climbing and building toys. Musical instruments, some toy quality and some better quality. When they see something that interests them she helps them learn how to research it and we seek out day trips to places to learn more. They play with mud and water and leaves and sticks and make huge messes. The four year old helps Papa repair things in the garage and is learning the names and uses of tools. The 2 year old helps Mama in the kitchen with cooking and cleaning and she helps me remember to take my blood pressure and my pills. We have a small co-op preschool that meets once a week, usually at our house, to help with more formal learning. But my daughter and son-in-law have only two firm goals for their daughters. That they grow up happy (as she puts it “not having to recover from their childhood”) and kind. I would add to that they would also have a life long love of learning. My daughter has said many times that she hopes they will never, ever be famous. The horrible way celebrities, sports figures and people whose lives are in the public are treated is sickening. And no matter how grounded they were raised, even the most humble person has an uphill battle keeping their life in perspective when they are surrounded by sycophants and bombarded with attention. The more I think about my daughters views on this, the more I am convinced she is right. Too many parents get their children into sports or other activities with a vision of their child becoming a “star”. I think it is normal for parents for to want their children to be the best, but is it more important than them being fair, kind, honest and happy. If our little girls show an aptitude for something and they want to pursue it as far as they can, we will encourage them, but we will also point out the negative things they will be getting along with the rewards. We want them to work hard, do their best and be satisfied with the results.

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