A Helicopter Mom Is Alienating My Kid’s Sports Team
We’re friends, but should I throw her in the penalty box?
Illustration by Jason Raish.
Dear Friend or Foe,
Loyal, caring, and supportive, my friend “Lisa” has always been there for me. We have in common the fact that our middle schoolers participate in the same organized sport. Unfortunately, she ruins it for everyone else. Competitive and obsessed, she constantly and viciously criticizes the coaches (who are volunteers). She criticizes parents to other parents, and even belittled some of the children's abilities in front of them. She has publicly accused some of buying their way onto the team because, in her opinion, their kids aren't good enough to be playing on it.
Other parents wonder how I can even be friends with her. I don't try to defend Lisa’s actions, but I defend how great a friend she is to me. Mostly, I just try to stay out of those conversations or change the subject. Meanwhile, Lisa has gotten in the habit of using me as her sounding board. I’ve tried to get her to see other points of view, but she’s so opinionated that she just ignores me. She doesn’t seem to realize that she’ll be involved with these families for years to come—or how negatively they view her. She also can’t see that, at this age, it’s supposed to be good, competitive fun. Nor does the sport have any big league options for which to strive.
Just recently, the situation reached a boiling point: Lisa may be formally sanctioned for her behavior. I'm not sure how to handle this. If I’m brutally honest with her, I fear she’ll shoot the messenger. I’d also like to be there for her, just as she has been there for me. At the same time, I feel as if she deserves what’s coming. How do I get myself out of the middle without losing the friendship?
It’s Just a Team Sport!
Sometimes, it’s the kids themselves who do the best job of controlling the helicopter moms (and dads). Not long ago, at my niece’s soccer game in Virginia, a child on the field was heard to yell, “MOM—SHUT UP!!” in response to her overheated mother’s inability to stop screaming “Kick it, Taylor!!” Meanwhile at my nephew’s Little League game, a Dad-coach got so upset over a call that the teenage referee ordered him back to his car to “cool down.” But there are things that the grown-ups can do to help, too. Lisa has been a good friend to you. If you want to be a good friend to her, sit her down and, in the nicest possible way, tell her she needs to a) take a step backward and b) get a grip. Rather than make it about the other parents (hearing they hate her will only further convince her that they’re idiots), tell her that, in becoming obsessed, she’s hurting her own kid’s chances of thriving on the team.
Remind Lisa that, at this age, team sports are not just about individual achievement; they’re about learning to work together as a group. Just as you told me, they’re also supposed to be about having fun! If she gets defensive and tries to throw the charges back in your face, give her a chance to think it over before you get back in touch. If she finally admits to having gotten a wee bit over-involved, encourage her to make amends. She can start by skipping a few games. As for dropping you as a friend, I somehow doubt she’ll do that. Given her personality, I’d guess that you’re one of few who Lisa has right now. In short, she likely needs your friendship every bit as much as you’ve come to rely on hers.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
When my roommate, “Jessica,” and I started our current lease, she and her boyfriend, “James,” of over two years had just broken up. She was upset about it, but agreed it was for the best, as he had a lot of growing up to do. A few months later, they were suddenly dating again. He lived a few states away, so she started visiting him. A couple of times, he came down to visit us. It was awkward, not only because the first time I met him was right after I walked in on the two of them having sex in the living room!, but because I’d spent four months listening to how awful he’d been.
He moved to our city last month with no job or apartment or savings lined up and has been staying with us for the past three-and-a-half weeks. We live in a one-bedroom-plus-den apartment. The den is an extension of the living room—and it serves as Jessica's room, too. When he first came to stay, I had few negative feelings toward him. But after several days of having him around all the time, I started to loathe the guy. I find him immature and obnoxious. I want to keep living with Jessica, but I don't know how long I can handle it with him around. How do I tell my roommate that I can't stand her boyfriend?
Stressed from Hiding My True Feelings
Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of four novels, including I'm So Happy for You and The Pretty One, which will be published in early 2013.