Having children so close together in age is great for so many reasons, like them having instant friends, dedicated partners in crime, and just the all-around fun of always having someone there to pick on or play with.
But this sometimes leads to some difficult decisions too.
This year my husband and I decided to have our 5-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son play on the same recreational soccer team. Registrants were described as needing to be in kindergarten or first grade. My daughter will be in kindergarten next year, so technically she is playing up a little, but my son is currently in first grade.
Let's start with the upside.
This decision has been great for both of them for so many reasons.
For my 5-year-old daughter this team is perfect. She is very athletic and listens really well for her age, so playing up has not been a problem at all. She doesn't seem to be intimidated by the 6- or 7-year-old giants that she is required to keep up with with, and she aggressively gets right in there with the older (and sometimes much, much taller) boys and girls to possess the soccer ball. This weekend she even got her first goal, the only one on our team to score.
For my 6-year-old son this team is also perfect. He is young for his grade, so often he plays on teams with his buddies, like in basketball or baseball, where he isn't as skilled or developed as some of his counterparts. He is an average kid when it comes to sports, he likes playing in the games, dislikes having to practice at home, but enjoys being involved. He does get discouraged sometimes though and doesn't have as much interest in participating in sports as much as his younger sister does.
However, in soccer, he has been a whole new kid!
Being one of the older players on this team has really done wonders for his self-esteem. When he would usually complain about running one lap around the outfield in baseball, he now gladly runs up and down the soccer field for an hour with no complaint. He assertively plays defense and he aggressively plays offense. He was kicked in the face with a soccer ball this weekend and didn't even flinch!
He surprises and amazes me every time I watch him play this season.
This weekend, my two players worked really well together during their game. I heard them communicating plays to each other when they were both on offense and my son even patiently walked his sister to her correct position, when she was confused about where to stand. It was really incredible and I had to swallow back a few tears.
But it isn't all easy with these two.
After the game, as I was congratulating my ecstatic daughter on her goal, my son became very jealous. I really wanted her to know how proud of her I was, but it was hard to balance both of their feelings.
All you care about is her, he said. All you are talking about is her goal.
I congratulated him on his great game too; he had some really great defensive kicks while helping the goalie defend. In fact, very little got by him. I told him that the team really needs him, and he is an important player on the team.
Then my daughter got jealous.
But I got a goal, she stubbornly said. That is what matters. Don't you care about me?
So this went back and forth, me commenting on one child, then their sibling hurtfully overreacting, then vice versa. I tried very hard to go back-and-forth with the compliments, but honestly after about 10 minutes I was about to lose my mind. I felt like I was talking in circles.
In the end, I am not sure how to handle this situation in the future. It is easier to support and congratulate them individually when they are not on the same team. However, when they are on the same team, it is difficult to encourage and praise one child, without the other feeling sad or left out.
We only have about a month of soccer left, but I am certain this is not the last time we will have situations like this happen. These two kiddos have a 3-year-old brother that will soon be in the mix too. And when it works out, it is so much easier for my husband and I if they play on the same team.
As we navigate though having our kids participate in youth sports I am sure we will figure out a fair balance of encouragement. Until then I guess I will have to continue to struggle.
I can say that I am not looking forward to the first time one child does really well and the other one really doesn't.
Before the game this weekend.