Help! My Friend Is Ruining Sports for Our Kids

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
Nov. 1 2011 7:20 AM

A Helicopter Mom Is Alienating My Kid’s Sports Team

We’re friends, but should I throw her in the penalty box?

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Illustration by Jason Raish.

Dear Friend or Foe,

Lucinda Rosenfeld Lucinda Rosenfeld

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.

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.

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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?

Sincerely,

It’s Just a Team Sport!

Dear IJATS!,

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.

Sincerely,

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?

Sincerely,

Stressed from Hiding My True Feelings

 

Dear SFHMTF,

Rule No. 1 in Friend or Foe’s Young People’s Guide to Apartment Dwelling: People with roommates are not, I repeat not, allowed to have sex on the living room sofa! Rule No. 2: Roommates who are splitting the rent are also not allowed to bring new roommates into the equation with renegotiating the terms of the lease. You can’t stand Lisa’s boyfriend, fine. But that’s not the real issue here. The real issue is that you entered into an agreement dictating that you and Jessica will each occupy 50 percent of the apartment. James being there (and it doesn’t seem like he’s moving out anytime soon) leaves you with a measly third—not what you signed up for. Hence, you need to sit your roomie down and tell her that, if she and On Again Off Again want to domesticate, they should find a new place to do so. There isn’t room for the three of you. Nor is he paying rent. Leave your feeling about the guy aside. If she tells you that you’re being selfish, tell her that it was selfish of her not to discuss the issue with you before she handed over her extra set of keys!

Now for my confession: This exact thing happened to me in my earlier 20s. He was always in the shower when I wanted to shower—or in the kitchen making chili when I was trying to make tea. I finally told my roommate she had to choose between him (as a domestic partner) and me. She moved out—and never spoke to me again. (She also married the boyfriend.) But you know what? I got over it. So will you.

Sincerely,

Friend or Foe

 

Dear Friend or Foe,

My high school friend "Thea" and I have already fallen out twice. Our friendship ended for the first time after she felt I wasn’t supportive enough during a drama-filled school year. It ended a second time after she started using me as her entire support system. There were calls at 4 a.m., even when I was on vacation with my family. Or she’d show up at my house to talk to me even if she’d called beforehand and I’d told her I was busy. But once things began to lighten up in her life, I heard less and less from her—and felt more and more like a fool. Two years passed before Thea contacted me again and asked me to dinner. There was another apology, which I accepted. But since this was our third “bout,” I kept her at arm's length and was friendly and supportive without giving too much of myself.

Somewhere along the way, however, she came to believe that I was her best friend again. Now in her early 20s, she just got married to her boyfriend who she's known for less than a year. She's also pregnant—and has asked me to be the maid of honor at the wedding and godmother to the child. I’m fine with being friends with Thea, rather than best friends. But I fear that agreeing to these positions will thrust me into an inner circle of which I want no part. At the same time, I'm worried she doesn't have anyone else to rely on. The friend I thought she’d ask to fulfill these duties recently told me that she stopped speaking to her, as she didn’t want to be hurt again. Thea has been in some dark places in her life, and I don't want my rejections to send her back there—not only for her mental health but for the sake of her kid. My parents and other friends think she’s a user and a liar whose habits will never change. Should I support her or run before it's too late?

Sincerely,

To Be or Not To Be

 

Dear TBONTB,

 

Well, the chances of that marriage lasting are—nil. First, the two of them don't actually know each other. I know readers will take exception here, but less than one year, when you’re in your early 20s, isn’t much of a foundation. Second, the woman has a proven inability to get along with, well, anyone. So if you want to be supportive and stand up there holding a bunch of hand-tied white gerberas for a few hours, I don’t see any harm. (The album is likely to be tossed in a few years’ time anyway.) But kids last a lifetime. So I would definitely NOT sign up to be the godmother of the child if your feelings about the mother are that negative. Some people take the designation seriously (monetary support is implied, as well as emotional support); others less so. Either way, you’re bound to the family for eternity. And here you seem to barely count the woman among your close friends!

I’d send Thea a nice note saying that you’re honored to have been invited to play such an important role in her life. But while you wish her and her husband many years of joy with their bundle of such—and are happy that you and she are reunited—you don’t feel you can fulfill the duty, as it implies a commitment that you’re not currently in a position to make. I’d keep it that vague. Hopefully she’ll read between the lines. I suspect that, over time, your friendship with Thea will grow fainter and fainter. But hey, you never know. She and the boyfriend could prove me wrong, too.

Sincerely,

Friend or Foe

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