Did You Know that Motherhood is a Competitive Sport?

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I didn’t really either until I had kids. It starts when they are babies, “My kid is 18 months old and still doesn’t sleep through the night.”  “Oh really? Sucks for you, my kid started sleeping through the night the very first night he came home from the hospital and has done so ever since.”  Then the competitive banter moves to when they start walking, talking, reading, writing, adding, subtracting and goes all the way to their GPAs, SAT scores and what college they are attending.

I am all for healthy competition. I think it is part of what makes the world go around. But the idea that parents are competing with each other based on their children’s merits…to me, this is downright crazy!

Our children naturally compete with each other, hopefully in a motivating way, but competition can be difficult for kids to navigate. Parents can be helpful or hurtful in the way they teach their children to deal with competition. It is essential for parents to look inward and be aware of how much they are using their children’s accolades to boost their own self-esteem and their feelings about themselves as a parent. Beware of this mindset: “Just look at how great my kid is! I did this!”

This issue is often taken to an extreme when it comes to kids in sports. I am blown away by the adolescent behaviors that are demonstrated by adults when it comes to kids and their sports. Are some parents trying to realize their own unfulfilled dreams through their children? Do they have early visions of their kid playing at Wimbledon, the Super Bowl or the World Series and will stop at nothing to make sure these visions become a reality (and actually think that they have that much control)?  There are actually two issues at hand here. The first involves how hard parents push their kids in sports (and in life, which I will cover in another post), and the second is how some parents develop extreme levels of competition with other parents in an effort to try to get their child “ahead” of others.

As I talk with other moms about this, I find that I am not the only mom who has been completely ignored by another mom who is pissed off that my son was chosen for a certain team and hers wasn’t, or that my son was getting more playing time than hers. Mothers have shared with me stories of how teammates’ parents have marched into coaches’ offices and ranted and raved, “How could you choose Susie for the last remaining varsity lacrosse spot?! My daughter is so much stronger and has trained so much harder! That should be her spot!” And to get even more infantile, this mother will proceed to give both Susie and her mom the stink-eye any opportunity she gets.

I am not saying that I have not felt that surge of competition or even jealousy if another kid gets picked for a team or a position over my kid. Of course, I have, this is only natural. But it is what we do with these feelings that matters.  I am not mad at the parents of the kid who got picked over my son. I am not mad at the kid either. Or the coach. I may be disappointed but I try to deal with that disappointment, and not take it out on others.

How I treat my son’s teammates and their parents is not going to affect whether my kid gets more or less playing time, or gets the position for which he is competing. I wonder if some of these parents who chose to treat other parents and kids poorly think that this is some kind of intimidation tactic. The only word I can think of in response to that is, “ICK!”  Another disturbing fact that I have learned is that sometimes the kid, whose parents are acting like this, doesn’t care that much about whether he makes the team or gets on first or second line on her hockey team. Also, she has no problem with her teammates or their parents. It is solely an issue for the kid’s parents! They are competing for the kid’s spot on the team more than the kid is! So, what I would like to ask these parents is, “Who this really about, your kid or you?”

Obviously, this issue has hit a nerve with me. Quite honestly, I was very hurt and blindsided by a mom who recently chose to act this way toward me. All I can say is that if your kid is on my kids’ team, I will talk to you in the stands, I will cheer like crazy for your kid, as I do for every kid on the team, and this is what I will tell my kid about being on a team and competition:

  • Work hard and always show respect to your teammates and your coaches.
  • Cheer on your teammates! Even if you are sitting on the bench and are not happy about it.
  • When it comes to direct competition with a teammate: Maybe you are better, maybe he is, but this competition will force you to continually strive to improve.
  • Ultimately it is up to the coach to make the decisions for the team. Respect that (and so will I.)
  • Welcome to life. It isn’t always fair. You will compete for a job. Sometimes you will get it, sometimes you won’t. End of story.
  • Don’t ever give up, on yourself, on your team or on your coach.

Comments

  1. Sing it sister! Such an awesome post, Julie. I CANNOT deal with the sports craziness. For me the issue (at my kids’ age) seems to be a competition of how dedicated a mom you must be if you have you’re shlepping your kid to tournaments hours away every weekend, etc. I cannot imagine how much worse it gets when there’s serious competition for spots. I’m really dreading it.

    • Thanks, Nina! And yes, it starts like that when they are young. But remember, it is not all parents. Just find a few like-minded ones who you can hang with on the sidelines or bleachers and you’ll be fine :).

  2. Kids in sports makes me want to knock back a whiskey ginger ale with the ginger ale on the side…really. Sport parents make that longing even worse.

  3. We homeschool and my kids aren’t into organized sports, so I don’t really have to deal with this sort of behavior- it sounds awful:( But I’ve certainly been around competitive parents (mostly about intelligence) who don’t seem to realize that they should also be helping their children be a little bit humble and gracious. Why isn’t character more of a competition? I’d like to see people bragging that they have the nicest kid.
    Also, reminds me of a time when I won an essay writing competition in high school, at the county level. Another mom actually came up to my mom and me and told us straight out that her daughter should have won (made some excuse, don’t remember what it was). Her daughter went to an expensive private school and I went to a not-highly-regarded public school; and she just couldn’t believe it. So sad:(
    Great post!

    • Thanks, Miriam. I agree wholeheartedly with your comment about competition of character! Unbelievable about your essay competition! It’s one thing for parents to think that but to actually tell you and your mom that–wow! Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful responses!

  4. Oh, wow! After reading this, I almost hope that my toddler son becomes more into chess and piano than sports. I have just never been a sports fan. Not as a kid, not as an adult. So it’s hard for me to get into the mentality in which sports would ever matter so much. Do you think that in kids’ sports that it’s just as much of a “fatherhood” thing to be hypercompetitive as it is a “mom” thing?

    • Yes, it is definitely rampant among fathers too! Probably even more so, but my husband is not like that at all and has not ever really gotten “into it” with any of the sports dads, so I can only speak to what my experience has been. To be honest, I am probably more competitive than my husband (was a competitive gymnast, and started gymnastics at the age of 3). Not to bum you out but just to give you a heads up, there are plenty of music moms AND chess moms (and dads) that are CRAZY competitive too :). Two awesome movies to watch that deal with some of these issues are “Searching For Bobby Fisher” and “Akeela and the Bee,” which is one of my all-time favorites!

  5. Ahhh….thank you for writing about my life. “Do they have early visions of their kid playing at Wimbledon, the Super Bowl or the World Series and will stop at nothing to make sure these visions become a reality (and actually think that they have that much control)?” This is what they call classic Narcissism, something I am all to familiar with, having been raised by one. The problem is, you can never be good enough. Because they do believe that you can win Wimbledon. I have heard the words, “I have always been disappointed you didn’t decide to move to NYC and work for a big corporation.” “You really gave up on tennis to easily” (after playing for 10 years and hating every minute of it)
    I’m sorry you have to deal with this, the sad thing is these people are more broken than you think, and chances are they can’t be fixed. But you can, and should, smile it away, and be the awesome mom you are!

    • Jen, thanks for sharing, and for your encouraging words. I am sorry that you had to deal with this issue in a much more direct way. I can walk away from many of these people, but dealing with a parent like this would be hard. I just looked at your blog and sounds like you are indeed “breaking the parenting mold!” Great blog!

  6. Yes. yes. The competitive Mom world is horrible (and unfortunately spills out into the blogosphere too). This was a great post!!!

  7. Melissa@Home on Deranged says:

    My husband doesn’t want our girls in organized sports because of this. We’ve both seem some ugly stuff covering small town sports when we owned a weekly newspaper. People literally screaming obscenities at kids and coaches, running out onto the field if they didn’t like something, attacking the coach in the dugout. Too much craziness. How are there still normal people left?

    • Wow, attacking the coach, can’t say I have seen that! Luckily I have found parents who I can process some of this with–but not many. I don’t blame your husband…but I do have to say that it organized sports have not been all bad for my kids. They have learned about dealing with competition, being a team player and have developed new skills. And they have had some fun too. And as much as it was not fun dealing with the unpleasant, overly competitive parents, I have met some “keepers” along the way :). Thanks for reading and for your comments.

  8. I’m with you 100%, Julie. Our county has a huge sports program, and I am amazed at the parents who manipulate the system and try to get special treatment for their kids. But I still feel that my childrens’ participation in sports has been a very positive experience – minus the few crazy parents.

  9. Julie, Nina wrote a piece that HuffPost ran called The Extracurricular Crackdown. For some reason I always link parents who overreact on the sidelines with parents who overschedule their kids (which is the focus of her piece). It’s all too much. We love our kids so passionately. Sometimes the best example we can show them is a positive attitude in times when things don’t go their way. It’s the start of building resilience and grit. I want my kids to learn to be gracious losers. How will they ever learn if I don’t teach them by example?

    Love this. So glad Nina did her matchmaking magic and put us together.

    • Thanks, Bethany! I agree with your link to Nina’s piece! It’s unreal how some parents schedule every minute of their kids’ lives. And yes, being a gracious loser–HUGE life lesson–and one that is so hard for so many kids. My son had a very hard time with losing for a long time and it was not pretty. But over time, he did thankfully learn. Thanks for reading and Nina is quite the matchmaker indeed!

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