Motherhood was fun and chaotic, but I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.
My evening run took me on a trail winding through a maze of fields loaded with kids learning about rules, teamwork, favoritism, and the discomfort of athletic cups.
20 Years of Sideline Momming
My evening run traversed through a maze of ball fields loaded with kids learning about rules, teamwork, favoritism, and the discomfort of athletic cups. It hit me with brut force, the memories of my 20 years as a sideline parent, causing me to stop my run and jot down my memories as a sideline mom.
When it comes to sports, there are a few types of child athletes. Some kids play by choice and genuine love of the game, while others play as a result of a parental bribe or expectation.
There's a clear distinction between those who succeed in the game and those who don't. Regardless of which label applies to the child, we encourage them to uphold their decision to play, even when it's clear they don't want to be there.
We advise them they won't always play the position they desire, and sometimes, they may not play at all depending on the coaching style. Regardless, kids learn the best of life's lessons come from loss and failure. We tell them not to be a quitter the moment things don't go their way. While it's probably easier on the parents to let them quit, it sets them up to be quitters in real life. So we tough it out with them, wipe their tears, and try not to strangle--I mean micromanage, their coaches.
Three Types of Sideline Parents
Here's the three types of sideline parents I've observed during my 20 combined years as a sideline parent:
- The "Deal Cutter" Parent: This is the parent who'll do about anything to get their child outside and active. These kids are the second or third-string benchwarmers, but no one cares, because everyone gets a medal. These are the parents napping behind their sunglasses waiting for it to be over. They can't get too comfortable because these are the kids with the impending emergency room visit because they're busy searching for four-leaf clovers in the outfield.
- The "I Wanna Be a Kid Again" Parent: This parent lives vicariously through their child, so they can redeem their own athletic failures. This parent is shouting at the umpires, screaming from the sidelines, and demanding their kid be put into the game because they can't witness failure anymore. This is the parent you'll almost give up your spot in the concession line to slap! But, you're starving and have already waited 30 minutes for a semi-cold rotisserie hot dog.
- The "Coach" Parent: This parent expects their child to excel and is constantly ripping on the umpires "hey ump, you're missing a great game!". These parents need their own penalty box! They have visions of scholarships and retirement funds. They pull out all the stops by investing in camps and private lessons. Their child starts and plays every inning, every sport, every season. They keep stats to analyze their child's performance and create a plan for the next match. This parent is also capturing nonstop video footage that'll never be watched and be stored in a plastic tote in the basement for decades to come. It'll be obsolete within the year thanks to ever-changing video technologies.
Some parents barely make it there, still in their work duds, with the look that screams, "I'm a failure at parenting." Their only hope is to make the final inning, and not disappoint their child with a no-show and make the “bad parent walk of shame." they will one day throw in your face as "remember that time you missed my game?" (forgetting all the ones you DID make). These parents nonchalantly slide into the bleachers because they forgot their butt-sunken umbrella chair in the car.
"It's not whether you win or lose, it's how your parents behave at the game!"
My Life as a Sideline Mom
I remember when all four of my "Babes" played on different fields at the same time. It was chaotic and confusing to split my time fairly and I felt like a total mom failure. We won't talk about the year I tried my hand coaching my daughter's softball team. I knew nothing about the game, but they needed someone desperately. I do think I scored one Mom-Brownie point for it.
I ate my share of bottom-of-the-barrel hot dogs, "tacos-in-a-bag," and Swedish Fish desserts. I "first-aided and Gator-aded" like a boss and like all "good moms," took my turns working in the gawd-awful concession stand, because we don't endure enough torture as parents.
Speaking of concession stands, if you have an ounce of sanity, will-power, foresight, , please pre-pack some food, DON'T GO TO THE CONCESSION STAND! The minute you do, you've set a precedent for your child and any younger siblings in tow, to beg for every single thing, every single game, for the entire game.
And Just Like That, It Was Over
Here sit, now watching from the sidelines of their adult live-- with no "interference." I wonder how I ever managed it all. I wonder if they think about those chaotic evenings and weekends, year after year and if they have positive reflections. I hope so because that's what I wanted for them.
Tonite, I stopped amid my run, with tear-filled eyes, to sit against a tree and write this blog--because I can--with all the free non-momming time in the world.
I haven't touched a concession stand hot dog in years. I keep thinking about how I need to convert those VHS tapes to DVD and then to the Cloud. One day I'll watch them again. I'm confident it will happen because I think of them often. I remember I still need to scrapbook all those photos, like the one above of my son sliding home (he was "safe" by the way).
I'll soon be purchasing a new butt-sunken umbrella chair to watch my grandkids play. I'll advise my adult kids not to push them too hard, but hard enough they know you care, to teach them helpful lessons of winning, losing patience, and teamwork. I'll do it better than I did before because now I'm a pro. I'll watch my grown children be "sideline parents" and chuckle when they aren't looking.
© 2018 Debra Roberts
Mayuri Patel on March 21, 2019:
I've not had to force my 3 kids to participate actively in outdoor activities but I remember cheering them on during their swimming competitions and annual sports day till I would home wth a sore throat. Perhaps I did that because I can't swim to save my life. Hitting a ball with a bat was never my scene and yet my kids did well. I guess that gene came from the dad. However, always stressed that winning was not the ultimate goal but having fun.
Subhashish Roy on March 19, 2019:
It was a completely new term till I read it. Interesting insights
Erica (The Prepping Wife) on March 18, 2019:
I don’t have kids, so I can’t exactly relate to this post, but I’ve known parents who fit into all of the categories you described. I think sometimes expectations are too high and parents set themselves up for failure. Balance is key in these situations.
Swagata Sen on March 18, 2019:
My kids will go to college in few years and the last part of your post made me really sad! I don't know how it will be without them around! This is the first time in my life I wish the time to slow down!
email@example.com on March 18, 2019:
I often wonder how I'll deal with my kids. I don't want to be over-bearing or super competitive when they find something they're interested in..but I also don't want them to get into something, then 3 seconds later decide that it's too hard and just give up.
Luna S on March 18, 2019:
I probably fall under #1 but also into a number of it's own, I do enjoy watching my kids do sports and such but I am not the "coach parent". I support them and encourage them to be active but I am not going to force them or be overly strict about it, if they want to do it I am right there with them.
Live Learn better on March 18, 2019:
Being a soccer fan to a once good team has thought what many life issue could not. Watching from the stand made me have a different opinion about failure and the difference between need and want.
I have been applying that to my raising my kids and it's been working well thus far.
Nina Nichols on March 18, 2019:
Too many expectations on parents set for disappointments. I believe that no matter what kind of labels others want to put on parents, at the end of the day, they want nothing but the best for their children.
Tracy @ Cleland Clan on March 17, 2019:
Your ending brought tears to my eyes. It's been five years since my youngest finished his high school career, and while I don't really miss the day to day rush that often, there are times when I do. In two or three years, our grandbabies will start playing sports, and it will start up again, but we won't be the ones in charge. We'll be the ones taking the younger siblings for a snack at the concession stand and cheering on our girl as she picks clovers on the soccer field.
In The Pastel Bag on March 17, 2019:
This is an honest account of life as a sideline mother – a term I wasn’t aware of. That sounds brave and insightful, to share the emotions experienced, concerns, expectations, and realisations.
Mary on March 16, 2019:
I laughed and cried at this. I want time to slow down with my babies but I also can't wait to live vicariously through them as they get older
MaryLentz on March 16, 2019:
My kids are still very young, but honestly, I’m dreading this kind of interaction with other parents. Competitive sports is great because it teaches kids how to rebound after a loss, how to lose gracefully, how to get back up after disappointment. Honestly, there are much more lessons in losing than winning. It’s a shame when parents can’t recognize that.
Scott DeNicola on March 15, 2019:
I’d like to think I’m the type of parent who was just happy that my girls wanted to be part of something they enjoyed doing. I never forced hem but must admit it felt good when my youngest asked to play lacrosse. I dug my stick out of the basement and helped coach but also knew her limitations. There are way too many sideline parents who feel the need to argue with other parents, umpires, refs etc. When it’s all said and done it’s just a game.
Debra Roberts (author) from Ohio on September 30, 2018:
Maybe from now on, I will make it a point to get some of it out during our visits. It's so important to focus on the good and happy times we had as a family.
Liz Westwood from UK on September 28, 2018:
You have reminded me of how much video footage I have stored away of our 4.