What is it with parents (or more accurately adults) that cause them to become mean – especially when attending kids sporting events? There are constant news reports of parent fights breaking out at youth sporting events – even to the horrible degree of assaulting a child.
What change has occurred in our society promoting such bad behavior? Parents are traditionally the primary role models for their children. Is this truly the type of behavior a role model should be promoting? Although physical brawls and abuse may not be as common, mental and verbal abuse are unfortunately all too common.
The irony is that parents believe that they are supporting their children but most often when a child is asked what they like least about playing a sport; the most common response is……the parents (typically not referring to just their independent parent but parents in general).
This means parental behavior was recently witnessed at a youth swim practice. My son Jackson joined the swim team several weeks back due to the strong recommendation & encouragement of his personal swimming instructor/coach (but the reluctance of his parents). Although Jackson may belong to a team, the competition itself is usually individually structured. This is ideal. Jackson’s Autistic developmental and motor skill delays would have no negative impact on the overall team.
Unfortunately, work scheduling conflicts often prevent my participation at practice events. Therefore, I was extremely excited to attend a practice. As anticipated, Jackson was one of the lower skilled swimmers on the team – but from the moment he jumped in the pool to the moment, he stepped out of the pool the smile never left his face. It was an expression of pure joy.
During practice, the team engaged in some Butterfly style lap drills. Jackson was swimming strongly until he was distracted by a random plane flying overhead which resulted in him pausing mid-lap in the middle of the pool to watch the plane fly by. After the plane flew out of sight, Jackson resumed swimming all the while smiling from cheek to cheek. I would have to assume that Jackson posted the slowest time in this pool’s history. However, he also posted his own personal best time.
As Jackson was obviously the last swimmer to finish, a mother of one of the other swimmers came over to my wife and asked: “is he water safe”? Are you kidding…..water safe? He just swam the Butterfly stroke two lengths of the pools with pausing in the middle to tread water for 45 seconds to observe a plane flying overhead. I truly doubt that this mother could achieve the same physical accomplishment. Needless to say, my wife responded to the mother’s question in a very kind and cheerful manner.
Although angered by the insulting statement, I chose to believe it was simply her ignorance of Autism and complete lack of common sense. Nonetheless, it was extremely hurtful. I later came to realize that these statements and condescending looks are commonplace at swim practice. A typical child would recognize this horribly judgmental and insulting behavior by other parents and be devastated, but one blessing of Autism is often the inability to truly read social situations. Ironically, while many parents exhibit horrible behavior, their children are kind, supportive, and compassionate.
As a parent, it is heart-wrenching to witness the judgment and meanness directed at your child. Although the natural instinct is to protect and defend your child when your child doesn’t understand the situation how do you then explain to them your actions? Therefore in an effort to be a good positive role model for your child, you painfully take the abuse.
The easiest way to eliminate the pain is to avoid the situation – which in this case would mean Jackson not participating on the swim team. But upon hearing that suggestion my wife quickly reminded me of Jackson’s smile. She said that she would walk through fire if it brought him that level of joy.
Maybe some parents need to talk down other children to make them feel better about their own child. If that is the case, it is not only extremely sad but projects a truly bad role model. Jackson is blessed with a strong loving mother. She may need to cry after many swim practices, but she is truly a good positive role model for Jackson as well as my personal hero.
Husband, father, coffee connoisseur and lover of all things hockey. At 51 I sometimes wonder have I done enough. I have been married to my best friend for 30 years. She knows all my faults and loves me anyway, As a father of “almost always” perfect boys, I am always surprised at what life has to offer. It is messy, scary, thrilling, and always fun.