Parents Are Role Models

Parents are the first and most important role models to children. Before and after our children go off to school or into the world, they take their cues from us. 

They are constantly watching how we handle situations, whether or not we are multitasking when we are with them, the way we talk to a wait person at a restaurant, how we treat people who are different from us, and the way we act when we win or lose. We are modeling for them on how they should behave now and in the future. 

I try to remember that my kids are watching me to see how I navigate this crazy world we live in and they often emulate my behavior– both the good and the bad. I hopefully show them some positive things such as appreciating all the wonderful things that I have been given or achieved, showing and telling the people close to me that I love them, trying to be kind, saying “please” and “thank you”, caring for the animals we are so lucky to live with, supporting my friends in both good and bad times, and trying to have a healthy work/life balance.  

I fall into the same traps that many other parents fall into like getting irritable when I’m tired or stressed, using some not so great language (I murmur “crap” under my breath a lot and I’ve been known to drop the f bomb on occasion around them), running around being so busy that I don’t always enjoy the moment I’m in, not always expressing what I want or need and then throwing an adult tantrum when I don’t get want I want or need, or being distracted by work when I’m at home (and by home when I’m at work).

In this time of my life, I sit on the sidelines of a lot of kids sporting events. I mean A LOT. We have three kids and they all play multiple sports so there is always a practice or a game to watch after work or on the weekend. My wife and I split it but it takes two adults to cover them all. Luckily, I love it most of the time and I’m happy we can give them the gift of exploring their passions through extracurricular activities. I remind them often that it is a gift that we are giving them so that they don’t take the time or money we expend for granted.

Having a 16-year-old, I know that the clock is ticking on this season of parenting and I am trying to live very much in the moment with my kids. I am currently sitting in the parking lot outside of my 11-year-old’s swim lesson. Since I am trying to focus more on gratitude in life, at this exact moment, I am grateful for technology, specifically laptops and internet on my phone. I have learned to be very productive during the down time of waiting outside practices or for games to start. I spend that time either working, walking, reading a book, or getting caught up on the phone with friends and family. 

But when it’s game time, I am engaged and cheer. In the town where we live, parents are conditioned early on not to coach from the sidelines. Soccer coaches have on the back of their coaching shirts “I Coach, They Play, You Cheer” to remind the parents of their job (only cheering). Parents learn not to coach from the sidelines and most parents follow that motto in all the sports in our town. I’m so used to the supportive coaches and parents that I am always shocked when we play other towns where the parents or coaches are screaming at the kids and the refs. 

Just last weekend, I was at an out of town soccer tournament for our 13-year-old and at one of the games the ref made a call in our favor that the other team’s parents didn’t like. Parents started booing and chanting, “You’re wrong!” over and over. It was not just one rowdy parent, it was at least two dads and two moms chanting and booing for 5-10 minutes. They had to stop the game and the other coach came over to talk to them. I was close enough to hear him and was irritated that he didn’t take a hard stance to tell them to stop yelling at the ref but instead took a loosey goosey “I don’t know what’s going on but the ref said if I don’t talk to you, we’ll get penalized”. Our team ended up winning and the other team’s parents were furious and blamed the ref. Frankly, it was a bit scary and I hustled out of there with my daughter because I could see that it might go south quickly. And we have to travel to that team’s town soon to play them again and I’m a little anxious about it. 

During the week, I was at my son’s high school lacrosse game and the other team’s parents were downright mean. We were playing a power house lacrosse team who usually just pummels the other teams, including us. I think they beat us last year something like 23-3. I was helping set up the field and several moms had to move a big portable dugout across the field (As an aside, I thought it was great for the high school boys to see three moms pushing this heavy thing across the field.  I was panting and singing in my head Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman Hear Me Roar”). We set up the portable dugout for the visiting team and one of the visiting dad’s yelled down at me to move it because they couldn’t see. I panicked a little and walked to a parent who has an older kid on the team to ask what to do. His response was, “We aren’t moving it so either they can move it themselves or move farther up in the bleachers”. I would like to say that I delivered that message to the mean dad with confidence but instead just I hightailed it as far away from the mean dad as possible. I’m still growing so don’t judge me. Hopefully one day I will be able to tell the mean dad he can move it himself if he wants to but he was big, loud, and scary so that wasn’t the day. 

That dad was so loud and obnoxious during the game that my son commented about it afterwards to me. It was a good reminder that the kids can hear us from the sidelines. I was sitting as far from the mean dad as possible so I didn’t hear him but I certainly heard the dad right behind me. I wrote down some of the things he said on my phone so I could remember them. He said loudly about the refs, “These refs are so bad”, “Our area has the worst refs”. And to the kids he yelled (I’m not kidding, I wrote this down), “You’re lazy. Don’t just stand there and be a spectator”, “Get away from each other, Jesus!”, “Look at the scoreboard. Run faster!”, “Pass the damn ball!”.

Not surprisingly, the other team had lots of penalties and at one point there were three flags on the play and three boys from their team had to sit out at the same time (first time I’ve seen that). I kept thinking that, of course, those kids had bad sportsmanship because they had grown up with parents who had verbally abused them and the refs from the sidelines.

Near the end of the game, a player from the other team got hurt right by our goal. He was obviously in pain and didn’t get up for a few minutes so the ref called for the team trainer to come over. The trainer was walking over (very slowly, it seemed to me) and our goalie, we’ll call him Steven, got down next to the opposing player and was talking to him calmly and trying to help him. One of our parents said, “Steven plays club lacrosse with that guy”. The goalie didn’t care that the player was from the other team, he just saw a player and friend in trouble and went to help when no one else did.

Now, that’s true sportsmanship and I was proud of our goalie. I will add that his parents are very engaged, positive, and helpful: at that game, his mom was at the sideline table doing the score and his dad was the announcer. Neither was berating the kids or the refs from the sidelines. 

We lost the game 12-7 (which was surprisingly close and the other parents were grumbling about the “close” score). Once again I was thankful to live in a town where the culture is to cheer the kids on and not berate them or the refs. And I was proud of my son’s teammate who made it a priority to help the other player who was hurt. 

Another dad from our team told me after the game that they had been at a lacrosse tournament last summer and a dad from another team said to his son, “You’re not on this field, this is the winner’s field. That field over there is the loser’s field”. He said they talk about it all the time in his house and feel sorry for that kid. I have been haunted by that story since hearing it thinking about that poor kid growing up with that messaging about sports and life. 

To round the week of playing out of town sports teams, my 11-year-old, had a water polo tournament two hours away. I am happy to report that the other team’s parents were not mean or verbally abusive. The dad behind me was just yelling extremely unhelpful remarks such as “Get back to the ball”, “Swim to the net” and “Keep swimming” (which I found particularly unhelpful as it was water polo and if they weren’t swimming at all times, they would drown).

We need to remember that our kids can hear us when they are on the playing field. I am not saying that we need to be perfect parents (I am The Ordinary Mom, after all) but we do need to be aware that our children are looking to us to see how they should act. I am a firm believer that parents need to be real people who show our kids that sometimes life is hard and we are trying to get through it with as much sanity and kindness as possible. We sometimes crack and aren’t always good role models (remember how I say crap a lot and drop the f bomb occasionally?). Sometimes we may even throw both sanity and kindness out the window. I know I do. And that’s ok. Because we are trying and learning from our mistakes.

I’ll share an incident about how I was not a good role model just this week. I took my 11-year-old to the neighborhood hot tub and I got into a verbal altercation with two guys who were sitting in the hot tub on their phones, which I found extremely rude. Let’s just say it started with my asking politely for them to get off their phones and it ended with my 11-year-old wanting to leave and one of the guys telling the person that he was talking on the phone to (still!) that a crazy lady was harassing him. 

I am certainly, and thankfully, not perfect but I do want my children to see their parents as positive role models who try hard to be good and decent people most of the time.  It’s ok to have flaws and cracks and let our children see them but we also need to own up to our mistakes and bad behavior because we want them to do the same.

I did apologize to my 11-year-old for making her uncomfortable with the hot tub altercation and maybe I took it a little too far but I was a little proud that she saw her mom standing up to two obnoxious people thinking the neighborhood hot tub was their private hot tub. I obviously am not over it yet and still feel that I was right and they were wrong but, as I said before, I’m still growing.

Let’s all remember that we are role models whether or not we want to be and let’s all strive to be like the lacrosse goalie whose priority was to help the injured player on the other team because that was the right thing to do.

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