The other day, my daughter J chided me for the fact that I don’t make it to all of her brother E’s middle school ball games (basketball at the moment, football in the fall, lacrosse in the spring and summer). According to J, “all the other moms” make it to all the games.
Once again, these nameless, faceless, highly superior “other moms” have been trotted out in an attempt to shame me. But the thing is, I don’t really feel bad about the fact that I don’t attend every game that E plays. I go to as many as I can, but between my full-time work and trying to equitably share my time among all of the kids, plus Jon, I simply can’t get there on time, every time. Plus, because E plays a sport year-round, there are games of some type taking place 1-3 times per week, for about 50 weeks of the year. In the case of basketball, the current season’s sport, the games take place in the evening – at 6 or 7 pm. This is dinner time, homework time and family time for E’s three sisters (okay, only J has homework, but you get my point). I try to make sure that I see E play on a regular basis while still protecting the other kids’ ability to have a regular evening routine as often as possible.
But even if I had NO other responsibilities besides E, even if he were an only child and I were a stay-at-home mom, I wouldn’t feel compelled to be sure that I was in the stands at every single game. I love watching my kids participate in various sports and activities, but it’s my opinion that by the time a child is in middle school – 7th or 8th grade – they should be motivated to play a sport or be in the school play or the orchestra or whatever it is by their own interest and ambition, not by any external validation that I might offer by cheering on the sidelines. Sure, it’s healthy and appropriate (and fun for me) to watch E play on a regular basis – and I do. But I just don’t feel like I am failing some kind of mothering litmus test if I am not present in person every single time he hits the court or the field.
Obviously, there is an age-related component to this issue. When the children were younger, I needed to be at every game or horseshow or play to make sure that uniforms were on correctly, boots were polished, fees were paid and enough water was consumed on hot days. Kids in elementary school or younger need parents around at activities for logistical reasons, and that makes sense to me. I was there. But by the time kids are 13 or 14 years old, I think that they need to be primarily responsible for things like making sure they have the right uniform socks or being certain that they brought the Gatorade that mom put in the fridge. By this age, if parents are coming to games, it should mostly be for support and cheers, not because the child can’t manage any of the logistics him or herself. E still struggles with this, and his stepmother and I try to help him develop better habits in keeping up with his equipment and uniforms, but more and more, we try to let him handle these responsibilities himself.
Looking back at my own parents’ style of raising my siblings and me, I remember that I enjoyed it when they watched me compete in a horseshow or act in a school play. I know my sister loved seeing them in the stands at her basketball and softball games, and my brother was happy when my father praised his hustle in a particular soccer game. But I never felt let down if they weren’t present sometimes. I simply didn’t have the expectation that it was a parent’s responsibility to be there, in person, every time I participated in an activity. I don’t think most of my friends did either. We did what we did for our own enjoyment, not as a spectacle for parents to watch. And since I didn’t have that expectation to begin with, I never felt let down or disappointed in any way on those occasions when my own busy, working parents with a large family weren’t able to be there.
I suspect that my views on this may be in the minority. I am sure that many parents feel like it’s both a responsibility and a privilege to be at every single game, and if that’s what works for you, that’s terrific. But that’s not my parenting style.
So where do you stand on this? Do you make it to every game? Do you feel guilty if you miss your child’s games? Do other parents make you feel guilty? Talk about it in the comments below.