In 1992, at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Canadian rower Silken Laumann was the favourite to win gold. She was already a world champion, and a bronze medallist at the previous Olympics in L.A, so Canadas medal hopes were high. Then tragedy struck, just 10 weeks before The Games. While training in Germany, another rowing skull cut across Silkens path, shredding muscles and breaking bones in her leg. Doctors doubted that she would ever row again, but after five operations and only 27 days, Silken was back in her rowing skull pursuing her Olympic dream. Amazingly, she won the bronze medal for Canada, a win that felt like gold. Silken went on to win a silver medal at the next Olympics in Atlanta and was inducted into Canadas Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.
Silken is a member of the Canadian Olympic Association and chairman of Right to Play, an organization dedicated to reintroducing play to children in refugee camps. In 2004, she founded The Silken Laumann Active Kids Movement to encourage physical activity in children.
PARENTSCANADA: Was it difficult to go from full-time competitive athlete to being a parent?
SILKEN: I was ready for it, but Im not a very good multi-tasker. When I was competing, I just focused on my sport, but parenting
is all about multi-tasking! Sometimes I fi nd it hard to keep the family schedule. So I get help when I need it, such as with outside yard work or cleaning the eavestroughs.
PARENTSCANADA: How would you describe your children?
SILKEN: I have two active children: nine-year-old William and seven-year-old Kate. William is a wiggler who has trouble staying still. Hes playful, but thoughtful and peaceful too. Hes an old soul in many ways, wise beyond his years. Hes tall for his age, like a gentle giant. Kate is a spark-plug creative, explosive in energy and full of drama. Her brain is always moving a mile a minute. Shes exhausting! But shes also a kind and compassionate girl.
PARENTSCANADA: You and your husband divorced when your children were very young. How did you cope?
SILKEN: We kept the kids as a priority. Five years later, we have a really positive relationship together. Kids pick up on dysfunction really quickly. Sometimes you have to bite your tongue or go on a long walk. I had a family psychologist help the children and us through the divorce. I have no problems in reaching out for help.
With so much divorce today, people need to develop a new kind of relationship with their ex if theyre parents. You dont really leave when you have kids. One of you may move to a different house, but theres still an ongoing relationship. Youre still connected.
PARENTSCANADA: How do you share parenting with your ex?
SILKEN: Were pretty fl exible so we work it out. Depending on my schedule, I have the kids during the week and some weekends when Im not travelling. Their father has them most weekends, from Thursday to Sunday afternoon. Our houses are only two miles apart so the kids can walk if they like. Im very fortunate. I realize its not always possible to have what I have.
PARENTSCANADA: How would you describe your style of parenting?
SILKEN: The kids and I get along great but there are little edges when they push the boundaries. Sometimes parenting feels like an endurance test in our house. First of all we are a family and everybody contributes. I think its important to celebrate the special moments, like crawling out on the roof together to see the stars.
PARENTSCANADA: How do you handle discipline?
SILKEN: I wanted to parent differently than how it was when I was growing up, so I took courses in parenting called Sidestepping the Power Struggle and The Parent Child Connection with family therapist Alison Reese. Its important to have
clearly set boundaries. Then, you give warnings when someone is close to those boundaries, and you must be ready to follow
through. We have a no hitting rule for everybody in the house, including me.
PARENTSCANADA: What was your childhood like?
SILKEN: My family was very physically active. I grew up in Mississauga in a real community where we were always playing outside and involved in neighbourhood games. We walked and rode our bikes everywhere. I have one sister, Daniele, who is four years older, and a younger brother, Joerg. My mom was a great believer in fresh air so shed shoo us out, out, out everyday in every weather, but sometimes I think she just needed to get us out of her hair. I wasnt involved in any sport until I started running competitive track at 13. I just liked playing.
PARENTSCANADA: Where does the name Silken come from?
SILKEN: Its from the fairytale, The Princess and the Pea. In the book, the princess has silken hair and my mother turned the word into a name. Ive never met another Silken, although I know there are a few named for me, especially after the 1992 Olympics.
PARENTSCANADA: Were your parents athletes?
SILKEN: My parents were first-generation Canadians from Germany. My dad loved sports soccer, running and cycling. He had played soccer at quite an advanced level when he was younger. My mom grew up in East Germany. She had been singled out as a promising athlete, but then the war came along. My mom loved walking, so we often went on long walks with her as well as family bike rides with my dad.
PARENTSCANADA: When did you realize you wanted to become an athlete?
SILKEN: Like every child, I wanted to be great at something. I wanted to be a writer after W.O. Mitchell visited my school and read from Who Has Seen the Wind? Then when the 1976 Olympics came along, I was really inspired by Nadia Comaneci but I was too tall to be a gymnast. I discovered rowing when I was 17 because my older sister was rowing. I was fit and had good endurance from running track but had been prone to shin splints and stress fractures. So rowing was a good fit. I set out to make
the Canadian National Rowing Team in my first year, in 1982, and I did it.
PARENTSCANADA: What sports or activities do your children like?
They have swimming twice a week. My son likes after-school activities
like field hockey. Kates good at soccer but she doesnt want to play it.
She likes free dance, art and theatre. She needs encouragement to get
outside and play or shed just stay in her room doing art.
PARENTSCANADA: What do you enjoy doing with your children?
SILKEN: We enjoy road hockey games on our street with the neighbourhood kids. Our free time is very important.
PARENTSCANADA: What is your house like?
I live close to the edge of chaos. Im not Martha Stewart with matching
napkins and coordinating shades of blue. I love art and colour. The
walls are filled with the kids art and poems and their spelling tests.
Were an active family so I usually wait till they go to bed to clean up
PARENTSCANADA: Do you have household help?
I have someone who cleans once a week. The kids are responsible for
chores at home. They help cook dinner, clear and load and unload the
dishwasher together. Theyre responsible for their own rooms although
they can be pretty messy. But
thats up to them. Theyre also
responsible for feeding our two cats, Smokey and Ami, and our golden
retriever, Balto. The kids clean the cats litter box and walk the dog.
Often, we all walk the dog together.
PARENTSCANADA: As a busy parent, how do you find balance for your own family?
Ive noticed that we get on this treadmill of overscheduling too easily.
My strategy is to pull back and ask myself, Are we doing too much? How
much play time do my children have? Family time is the most precious
time since the day goes by so fast. The kids are in school until 3 p.m.
Its important to set aside free time for the family to do something
together. We have at least one night a week where nothing is scheduled.
PARENTSCANADA: What is The Silken Laumann Active Kids Movement?
Were a national charity dedicated to increasing physical activity in
children. Its about re-activating playgrounds and encouraging movement
at recess and after school. There is a large percentage of kids who
arent active and we need to engage them. Its also about sharing
knowledge and providing leadership to teach games.
We should remember that kicking a soccer
ball around outside is as good for kids as an exercise class. Its free
and connects them to neighbourhood friends. There are twice as many kids
enrolled in organized sports than ever before yet twice as many
children are obese. I think we spend more time in the car driving to
childrens activities than the time they get to play. Kids dont have to
be exposed to every single sport. They can do sports when theyre older.
We need to balance it with more play periods.
PARENTSCANADA: Whats most important to you in your relationship with the children?
Love. I think my role is to help them develop into good people who care
for others and for the earth, to become people who make a contribution.
Im not their best friend. Parenting isnt a popularity contest. I value
moments. I want to be with my kids, making memories and sharing my
values with them. I take joy in observing my children as they make
friendships, grow and develop their emotional intelligence.
A tidy house is not my priority. PC