Ask any Olympian how they got on the road to Rio this summer, and it's a good bet they will mention their moms — moms who encouraged them to try a sport, moms who drove them without complaint to the gym or the pool or the lessons or the boathouse or the track so they could pursue their passions, and moms who made sure they ate after practice and were there with a shoulder when they needed to cry.
No doubt about it, Team USA would be nothing without their moms. What lessons can we learn from them?
1. Keep your mind open to passions and pursuits you know nothing about; they might be the perfect fit for your child.
Team USA fencer Ibtihaj Muhammed's parents wanted their five children to participate in activities that would allow them to honor their religion by keeping their arms and legs covered. When Muhammed's mom, Denise, happened to drive past a group of fencers from the local high school practicing one day, Muhammed said, even though her mom had no idea what fencing was, "she thought, 'This is perfect.' That's where it all began." Muhammed began fencing at age 12. Now 30, she will be the first United States athlete to compete at the Olympics in a hijab — proving her mom right.
2. Take heart, moms of picky eaters everywhere: you might be feeding a future Olympian (who will someday cook her own food!).
Ashleigh Johnson, now a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic water polo team, fought back if her mom, Donna, tried to feed her anything without one crucial ingredient. "If you gave her anything without meat, she was not happy," she said in an interview. Luckily, Johnson, now 21, learned to cook at her mother's side. "Ashleigh makes her own food. So it was good that she cooked with me when she was at home. And now she calls every now and again and says, ‘Mommy, how do you make this?’" said Donna Johnson.
3. Acknowledge disappointments, but don't let your kid dwell on them.
After watching him own the pool in several Olympics now, it's hard to imagine swimmer Michael Phelps not succeeding at...well, anything. But even Olympic superstars have bad days, and their moms likely remember every one of them (because that's what moms do, after all). In an interview, mom Debbie Phelps remembered a specific meet at George Mason University when Phelps failed to break the American record in the 100-meter freestyle. "He didn't do it," she said. "He didn't talk to his coach afterward; he just came up into the stands to see me."
Phelps told his mother he was upset because he didn't break the record. "I told him, 'You'll swim it again, and when you understand what you need to do to break the record, you will. Let's move on,'" said Debbie Phelps. "It's how we talked the disappointment through." In an age when we struggle with letting our kids fail, Phelps shows how failing is an inevitable part of anyone's story, but we can help our kids see it's not necessarily the end of the story.
4. Remind your kids that success comes from one place: work.This summer, 19-year-old Simone Biles has already found herself at the center of Olympic media attention as a stand-out member of the 2016 U.S. women's gymnastic team. Biles and her teammates know that their country has high (read: golden) expectations for them in Rio. How does a teenager handle that kind of pressure? "I think the key is to stay grounded and focused on training and doing your best," said her mom, Nellie Biles of Spring, Texas, wrote in an interview. "I always tell her she is strong and exudes a unique power which will take her far in life.”
Simone and Nellie Biles are featured in P&G's 2016 summer Olympics version of their "Thank You, Mom" campaign, showing some of the hurdles they have overcome together:
5. Remind your child that character can also be medal-worthy.
“Wrestling is only part of who Robby is,” said Kim Smith, mother of 2016 U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling team member and fan favorite Robby Smith. “He’s this really great, kind, amazing guy. In his soul he’s a beautiful person and going through life, that’s the important thing.”
6. Life is hard. Make it rad anyway.
Sometimes, those Olympic athletes become moms themselves. Heading to her fourth Olympic games and now with a family in tow, veteran Olympian and gold medalist in beach volleyball Kerri Walsh-Jennings has wisdom to share with her own children. Though her Olympic bid means some time apart from her children, Walsh-Jennings said her family will "win a gold medal together."
"I'm focusing on the positives because there's way more positive than any negatives," she said. "Life is hard. You've got to accept it and make it rad in spite of that." Those are great words to live by from a mom who has as many gold medals as she does children.