Not long ago my wife and I had two little ones dragging us to the castle playground every day but in the blink of an eye they’re 22 and 19. My son recently stated he must be getting old now that he’s getting wedding invitations from his friends. I don’t feel any older but if he says he’s getting old then I don’t want to know how he would characterize me.
Why the reflection on the park and getting older? Recently I was doing some research for work and discovered a well-written blog on The Patch in Alameda, CA by Kate Bassford Baker. “Dear Other Parents At The Park” was a young mother’s reflection on how she’s raising her young children and it was refreshing. It was a stark contrast to what I see in my daily job as the Executive Director of PA West Soccer.
It made me think about my child-rearing days and ponder what I regularly see. Did I volunteer to help with a school event out of sense of community or was it to ‘help’ one of my kids?
As parents we want to give our children the best and most we can. We want to make available to them things our parents didn’t or couldn’t. But I think the recent generations of parents (including some from mine) didn’t pay attention to how they were raised. There’s a difference between providing for our kids and interfering on behalf of our kids; unfortunately the distinction is lost on many people.
I frequently see parents engaged in all kinds of activity in an effort to give their child an advantage or to protect them from the ‘hurts’ in life. They lobby, they run for club office, they threaten, they actually fight, and they pay thousands of dollars in the pursuit of paving the way to athletic glory for their child. My peers in other sports share similar observations.
In the world of youth sports and activities there are ‘helicopter’ moms (always hovering around), ‘we’ dads (I don’t understand how we didn’t make the top team), ‘stage’ moms (always offering their child tips to help their performance), ‘drive home’ parents (review and discuss in the entire game on the drive home), and the ‘I don’t know’ dads (I don’t know anything about this sport but it seems…).
It’s not just in youth sports but also youth activities and is even happening at our colleges and universities. A friend who coached at a Division 1 school who regularly fielded calls and emails from his players’ parents and his response was always the same, “Your daughter is an adult and I will only answer her questions.” He said professors also complain about getting calls from parents instead of their students when there are issues.
Even big business has seen the evolution in parent behavior from unseen support to very visible advocate. In a “60 Minutes” interview an HR officer with Ernst and Young admitted the accounting firm now ‘recruits’ the parents of recent college graduates they’d like to hire because, “…they’re now part of the package.”
As for my earlier lament about my volunteering, my son affirmed it was likely to help out when he sent me a text that said, “Thanks for not being one of those parents.” I had to get a clarification as to what he meant. I turns out he was witnessing one of the grandest displays of ‘stage’ moms and ‘we’ dads while helping the Slippery Rock University Music Department with auditions for entry into their program. Unlike most majors, music majors must complete an audition process in addition to having their SAT’s and school transcripts meet the university’s requirements for entry. Sometimes a dozen kids will be auditioning for one opening. It creates for a tense day only made worse by the ‘ever-present’ parents as I previously described.
I have to wonder if the kids would have felt less pressure if their parents had done what my wife did during my son’s auditions. She dropped him off and then found a place to read. She probably said, “Good luck,” and away he went to succeed or fail all by himself.
I think if either of us had tried to intervene on either of our children’s behalf they would have told us to butt out. That comes from self-confidence and a desire to do it on your own and whether it was an innate trait or something my wife and I taught our kids they have always grown frustrated with adults wanting to help them. We often had to watch them make a mistake but making mistakes is how we learn.
Yes, that frustration with adult help includes in the park at the playground when they were trying to climb the ladder on the sliding board. I think Kate Bassford Baker is on to something.
Here’s to time well spent watching the little ones run, swing, and climb at the playground.