Attack of the Helicopter Parents: When Gymnast Mom Strikes

image via ABCGNews.com

I’ve been threatening this column for a while and I figured that with football season starting it was about time.

However, I’ve had some subjects for posts I really like show up in my brain, so I kept pushing this one back.

Then my wife came home with a peach of a story and I figured “That’s a sign.”

First, you may not know what a helicopter parent is.

Well, helicopter parents (known in entertainment circles as stage parents) are parents who hover over their kids when they do whatever it is they do. Most commonly found around kids who play or do something that could end up making them famous or money, it’s a parent who sees that Johnny can shoot a basketball or Sue can dribble a soccer ball better than any of the other kids and decides they’re going to “help them” make the most out of their skill.

image via PrincipalsPage.com – and it’s a brilliant shirt

Often it’s the parents living vicariously through their kids—they were never talented enough to make the high school wrestling team and get a full ride to college, but Harry can—but sometimes they’re just way too enthusiastic in general.

There are different flavors—from the mom who won’t let her son drop violin because “he’d be wasting his talent” to the dad who micromanages his son’s life so he can become the ultimate quarterback.

Anyone who is my age and follows football thinks of Todd Marinovich, the former USC and Oakland Raiders quarterback whose dad was working to make him a quarterback when he was a toddler.

That’s not even all that uncommon really, though the extreme side of things.

We’ll see some nuttiness in these columns but let’s start with what my wife witnessed at gymnastics last night.

The Professor is starting to play team sports, but he really likes the individual ones as well and as nimble as the monkey is, gymnastics has always been a great fit.

Tuesday night was a makeup class for him in place of one he missed when he was visiting his grandparents a few weeks back. It was a slightly lower level then he normally does (he’s intermediate level #humblebrag), but as always, he had a good time.

image via Huffingpost.com

While he was doing his thing, my wife waited in the lobby. You can watch the kids, but there isn’t much space to do it so she was sitting and hanging out while he had his class.

At some point a woman came in trailing two little girls and the three of them went to one of the glass doors to watch.

The woman began criticizing (in a loud Jersey accent which my wife described as “Snookie”) one of the girls in the class for not holding onto the balance beam.

“Oh she’s not going to do it. She has to hold on when she does that. She’s just being lazy.”

She then shooed the other two girls away, blaming them for the gymnast’s struggles because “they were distracting her.”

Then, obviously the gymnast caught her mom watching her as the women started directly talking—through the glass door and very loudly—to the girl.

“You have to hold onto the bar. You’re not holding onto the bar. You have to do it or you won’t be able to do the stunt.”

Eventually she let it go, exasperated, and sat down. My wife said she then started a loud conversation across the room with another parent discussing at length how her daughter was lazy, complained too much, wanted to do the gymnastics but won’t practice, wasn’t going to put in the effort she had to and oh no, now she’s going to complain because cheerleading is starting and she won’t want to do that either.

And then she started having a loud conversation about her daughter’s body and how she would be getting breasts soon (apparently she was about 12, though my wife said the girl was very short so she didn’t know).

You know, because that’s a conversation for public consumption.

Sidenote: I have noticed the last few years that people will say the most private, not-for-public things in public places now. I don’t need to know your daughter is hitting puberty, I don’t give a damn if you think so-and-so drinks too much or how much money you make. Keep it to yourself.

image via Huffington Post

The daughter then came out for a water break and the woman began berating her. Just telling her all the same crap she did through the glass, but now in front of everyone in the lobby.

The girl snapped back at her—”I’m trryyyiiiinnnnngg”—in a tone which my wife said she’d have never tolerated. Until she considered that the mom was dressing down her kid’s skills, attitude and desire in front of a group of strangers at a very loud volume.

They ended up in a super loud argument (something which is always embarrassing to witness) that resulted in the girl huddled up on her mom’s lap sucking down a Gatorade and in tears.

Now, I don’t know what the mom’s issue was. Maybe she’d had a bad day and this was unusual. I will say that the story has the feel of something frequent, but I don’t know.

I don’t know if she thought her daughter could be a gymnastic star or was lazy or any number of things.

But good lord lady, it’s your daughter.

If you have an issue with her effort, you talk TO her about it not rant AT her about it. And here’s a pro-tip: do it away from other people and listen to your kid. Maybe her arm hurts. Maybe she’s feeling ill. Or maybe, even though she loves it, two hours straight of gymnastics is too much for her. Perhaps a shorter class or lesson?

image via CambridgeNannyGroup.com

If your kid wants to do something, you have to be the one to see how much effort they—and you—can put into it and adjust the activity accordingly. It’s one thing to make a kid practice—we make Alpha practice his guitar—it’s another to make them practice to the point where they are exhausted and stop liking what they are doing.

It’s insane. I’m proud of my wife for not saying anything because that sort of thing is hard to witness silently.

Your kids are just that—kids. They need your help managing their time and they are not small adults. They don’t cope with things the way you might.

Just try and remember that the next time the kids aren’t quite putting as much effort into something as you think they should.

Your biggest concern should be that they are having a good time and smiling a lot.

Hey, are you following Dad Moon Rising on Twitter or Facebook? Why the hell not?


10 Responses to “Attack of the Helicopter Parents: When Gymnast Mom Strikes”

  1. August 7, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    One of the best “wisdoms” I’ve ever heard (and one I try to remember with my four boys – otherwise known as the four horsemen) is to tell your kids, “I LOVE watching you play.” Nothing lights them up quite like that phrase. And its all they want — is for mom/dad/grandpa/uncle to LOVE watching them.

    Thanks for a great post. Helicopter’s need to get their own lives….

    • August 7, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      You’re welcome!

      And yes, that’s the single best thing you can tell your kid win or lose, whether they are good or bad – that it’s great to watch them have fun!

  2. 3 The Wife
    August 7, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    I will be the first to admit that I will absolutely discuss with my kids when I think they could be trying harder or might benefit from doing something differently. And if I think they’re not into the activity, I’m going to ask them straight-up because I’m not paying for something they’re not interested in. But, in my opinion, the ONLY scenario in which it’s ok to publicly chastise someone is when they do something rude or harmful to another person. And then it’s more a matter of stopping the behavior immediately and ensuring the injured party is ok, and recognizes that YOU (as a parent) know the behavior was unacceptable. But these horrible women at gymnastics – and there are a LOT of them – exhibit the worst sportsmanship I think I’ve ever seen among parents so far. It’s mind boggling. Give me back the football moms, please!

  3. August 7, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    My son has played a variety of sports since he was 4. As my son got older my husband and I participated by helping with team administration (coaching, managing etc). The amount of crap the coaches have to listen to about “little Joey”, what position he should be playing and his future in the NHL, is unbelievable.

    Flip side of that -Truth be told I’m not a sports lover in any way. Sure I go to the gym but it’s because gravity and middle age are spurring me on. I guess that’s vanity but let’s just call it healthy living….okie dokie? I’ve sat through lacrosse games that I’ve watched through the cracks of my fingers whilst wincing at the roughness of the game. I’ve held my umbrella sideways to protect against rain that sweeps horizontal to the ground beside muddy soccer fields. I’ve risen at 4 am to stand in my pajamas while drinking crappy arena coffee during early morning practices. I once drove a 5 hour round trip to watch my son participate in 2 minutes of a jujitsu tournament. I’ve shivered on the sidelines as snow has fallen on the football field. I’ve sweltered in the sun as it’s baked the track field. During every practice, match, game, meet or tournament, I always realized it was for and about him. Through it all I’ve been grateful for the lessons he’s learned and the experiences he’s had (good and bad). He turned out to be a fantastic human being who still incorporates a variety of sports in his life in a very positive way. Though I prefer sleeping in and all things non competitive, even I have to allow that sports is a great tool for building life skills when approached properly.

    • August 7, 2013 at 11:22 pm

      Both football organizations we’ve been with have gone out of their way to recognize how much effort it takes from parents to make their kids sports lives go.

      Of course, they’re equally clear that when the kids step on the field THEY are the coaches and WE are the parents (except now since I am both).

      It’s painful to watch what some coaches and officials go through….. although I will admit that sometimes a blown call will make me grouse.

      • August 8, 2013 at 2:06 am

        Nobody likes a crappy call… amiright? Coaching can be incredibly rewarding both for you and the kids. The very first hockey coach my son had laid a wonderful foundation and set a great example. Even at 5 years old I never had any trouble getting my son out of bed in the wee hours of the morning because his coach made sure all the kids enjoyed themselves. I hope you have a great experience coaching! For us the good far outweighed the bad. =)

      • August 9, 2013 at 1:23 pm

        Re: the blown call/crappy call comments. As a 20-year football official, I need to respond. First, I will agree that officials make mistakes, I’ve certainly made my share of them. But in my experience, the youth games are the worst to officiate primarily because neither the coaches nor the parents know the rules. They watch NCAA/NFL games on the weekend and think they know the rules, but have never actually looked at a high school rules book. The blown/crappy call is most often the perception of the coach/fan not understanding this.

        Second, most of the officials at the youth level are younger/rookie officials. This is where you start. This is where every official started. When you watch an NFL game on Sunday, every man in stripes was a rookie at one time working youth sports. It takes time to learn the rules and time to learn to officiate a game.

        So, take it easy on the kids – they aren’t playing in the NFL. Take it easy on the officials – most of them are just learning. And finally, if you think you can officiate the game better, find the local officiating group and sign up.


      • August 9, 2013 at 1:46 pm

        Oh please don’t think I hold the officials in anything but high respect. It’s a hard job and there have been times when I have told refs thanks for doing it after tense games. I just wanted to point out that I too get frustrated and haven’t always been the best sideline parent. I didn’t want to sound like “oh I never get frustrated” because we all do. There are bad calls -I know the rules well (because of my job) and sometimes calls are just wrong. But sometimes they’re right whether we like it or not.

        Definitely there have been times when I’ve been frustrated—but that’s true at any level. They’re only human.
        As the t-shirt pictured in the article said – this is a game, you don’t play for the (insert Team X).

        We’d go a lot further and enjoy the games more if we could remember that period.

  4. August 7, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    I don’t get that sort of thing. I bend over backwards to not live through my kids. I often have to tell parents of kids I teach to back off, leave their kid be, and let them do their own work. My big line is: “You already did Grade 4. Now it’s your son/daughter’s turn.” p.s. When my son was 4, he took gymnastics and (i know this isn’t nice but…) he was terrible! He was just like me – no upper body strength, no natural grace or ability. But he LOVED it! One day they were doing the rope climb and he literally couldn’t get on the bottom knot without falling off or laughing or whatever. Some of the kids were going up the rope to the ceiling like monkeys. When he came out of class, I said, “How was your class?” “Awesome,” he said. “What do you think you did the best at?” “Oh, I was the best at the rope.” OK then.

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