Like many millennial parents, I aim to raise my two boys with a gentle approach. I’ve followed Instagram accounts that recommend language for high-stress situations with toddlers. My two-year-old and four-year-old have practiced calming themselves through yoga and breath beads. We enrolled them at a daycare that used positive reinforcement rather than time-out as discipline. And yet…
There was the time they took turns roaring at other kids on the playground, their ferocity making a few others cry. Or the time I found my four-year-old in our kitchen at 5:45 AM climbing up a step stool propped atop a counter stool as he tried to reach the dessert shelf at the top of our pantry. Or the time my two-year-old sprinted away from me at Hershey Park, looking over his shoulder giggling only to run directly into a metal pole (he was fine; not so sure about the pole). Or the time my older son swung on the original glass door of our home’s 1914 built-in shelf and the door cracked off its hinges. Or the time my younger son was in the hospital for an infected bug bite and, while my back was turned as I talked to a doctor, he tried to jump from a couch to his hospital bed (I miraculously caught him midair, or our stay may have included stitches). You get the point.
My parents raised three girls — my worst offense as a preschooler was cutting our neighbor’s hair — so my boys have been something of a learning experience for my family. My dad’s favorite grandparent activity is tackle-fights with pillows, my mom worries about my kids’ inability to sit still, and my in-laws — parents to two boys and one girl — assure me my boys’ boundless energy is normal. They had, after all, resorted to a wrestling mat in their basement when my husband and his brother were growing up. As long as we avoid breakables in our main living space, they say, we should be okay.
Still, I worried our approach at home was somehow wrong, too enabling in one moment and too stern in another. I felt stuck between two generations. And then, the Kelce brothers took over the world.
For much of adulthood I’ve been, admittedly, a lukewarm NFL fan. I grew up going to Eagles games and I’ll always cheer for the Birds, but when my husband asked me who I thought the Eagles quarterback was before the Super Bowl in 2018, I said Donovan McNabb. Today, I am a person who knows the intricacies of the Eagles’ “tush push” and the names of most of the offensive linemen — all thanks to the Kelce brothers’ weekly podcast New Heights.
It wasn’t Travis Kelce’s relationship with Taylor Swift that got me hooked, or Jason’s intimate family documentary about potentially retiring, which premiered this fall. It was Donna and Ed, their parents. Ahead of last year’s Super Bowl, where the Eagles and Chiefs — and therefore Travis and Jason — went head-to-head, the Kelce brothers featured their mom and dad on their podcast. At the time, my older son was a diehard Chiefs fan because he shares the same name as the team’s quarterback and loved the color red. My younger son was all about the Eagles because they were “mommy’s team.” I felt ill-informed about the rivalry and kept seeing clips of the New Heights show on my Instagram feed, so I tuned in to an episode.
The family love and respect was palpable, and parenting nuggets abounded. They reminisced about the brothers’ household destruction growing up — like “powerbombing” on the sofa so hard its legs went through their hardwood floor, or using baseball bats to hit golf balls over the house, which resulted in a broken window — and the many ways they tried to contain it. The Kelce parents, now divorced, spoke about one another and their parenting partnership with kindness (despite Jason and Travis baiting them to do otherwise). Donna talked about not pushing her kids into certain activities, instead just supporting what they came to her saying they wanted to do. And Ed talked about taking on an extra job around Christmas to help pay for the boys’ gifts (hockey sticks and iPods) because “I had two kids I was crazy about.”
How could you not love this family? I started tuning in more regularly, replacing anxiety-inducing Instagram videos of parenting gurus with calm voices and trendy graphics with the Kelce brothers’ stories about being put on a leash by their mom at amusement parks, getting yelled at by their dad on Thanksgiving to finish their food, and scoldings (from their dad in particular) when they acted the slightest bit unsportsmanlike. They were so obviously unruly as kids, and yet these are two grown men who embody non-toxic masculinity. They may make a living ramming their bodies against other massive dudes, but they openly embrace their emotional sides. My heart broke when Jason teared up after the Eagles Super Bowl loss last year and told his mom to go celebrate with Travis, and when Travis teared up while talking about disappointing his family when he got kicked off the University of Cincinnati football team after testing positive for marijuana. To wit, they’re attracted to strong partners (hello, Kylie Kelce; hello, Taylor Swift).
Listen, these two are not perfect, I’m sure. But parenting is hard. It’s a rollercoaster of tiny decisions that feel precarious, exhausting, and high-stakes all at once. We hope that our kids will turn out as best as possible — and will appreciate the sleepless nights, endless sacrifices, and unconditional love it took for us to get them there. It’s obvious the Kelce parents were tough on their boys, but rather than resent their parents for the discipline, Jason and Travis seem to appreciate it. And isn’t that all we want as parents? For our kids to grow up and know we parents are mere humans, but we tried our absolute best every single day?
So though Jason may be one of People’s Sexiest men alive, and Travis seems to have won the hearts of Swifties everywhere with his looks and unapologetic support of their queen, I can’t help but view the two of them as kids — or the polished version of what my two adorably unruly kids could become: best friends and generous sons. The next time my boys break one of our dining room chairs during a game of chase, I’ll close my eyes, take a deep breath, and remind myself that one day — in the very, very, very distant future — we’ll tell a story about the moment and laugh. And you can bet this Monday when the Eagles and Chiefs play again for the first time since the Super Bowl, I’m taking a page from Donna Kelce and rooting for the offense.
Colleen McKeegan is the author of Rip Tide and The Wild One. She was previously an editor at Marie Claire, where her work was nominated for a National Magazine Award, and her writing has appeared in The Cut, Elle, Glamour, Bustle, and Fortune. A native of Allentown, Pennsylvania, and a graduate of Georgetown University, Colleen lives with her family in Westchester, New York.