I’m saddened that so many parents need permission to set boundaries and advocate for their children. There is a higher level of insecurity permeating parents today than in previous generations. On the one hand we have helicopter parents whose anxiety pushes them to micromanage and overprotect their kids, with adverse effects. On the other hand there are parents who are reluctant to advocate for their children for fear of being judged as meddling or aggressive. Thus moms and dads feel stuck and paralyzed when it comes to making decisions, setting boundaries, or saying no.
Lexie’s anxiety began when she was accepted into a premier gymnastics team. She worried about making mistakes and hurting the team, and worst case being kicked off the squad. She severely hurt her ankle a few days before a big competition, and her physician told the family that under no circumstances should she perform that weekend. The gym’s unwritten policy was that if you weren’t in a cast you performed, because college and Olympic athletes have to push through injuries all the time so she’d better get used to it now. Lexie’s mom felt torn between protecting her daughter’s long-term health, appeasing the gymnastics coach, and handling an intense girl who demanded to perform. By the way, Lexie is nine years old.
Kelly, 15, played on a traveling club softball team that participated in tournaments all over the Midwest throughout the summer. When her parents told the coach that she would miss a week because of a family vacation, they were told in no uncertain terms that anyone who missed more than 2 practices or games was off the team, and there were dozens of girls who were lined up to take her spot.
When I gave Lexie’s mom permission to tell the gymnastics coach that her daughter would not be performing because of her injury, she breathed a loud sigh of relief. Someone had validated her intuition about taking care of her girl, and it gave her the courage to follow through. I encouraged Kelly’s family to decide on their priorities about what was important for their summer based on their own values and needs, not the teams. They actually got the rest of the parents together and as a group told the coach that they were all going to take some family time this summer, and he was not going to dictate that for them. The coach relented.
Someone needs to start standing up to these berserk coaches and do what’s right for our children. I believe parents have good intuition when it comes to knowing what’s right for their kids; they just need the ability to push aside outside influences and the courage to trust their gut. Perhaps we need a D.A.R.E. program for parents to teach them to just say no to unhealthy and unrealistic coaches, expectations, and activities.