Why do we condemn other parents?

If you’ve been around youth sports for any amount of time, you’ve heard it. Someone is speaking disparagingly in hushed tones about another parent. They shake their head and comment, “He thinks she’s going to get a scholarship.” The younger the child in question, the harsher the indictment. Parents who put in extra time with their kids, have them play in ultra-competitive clubs, or pay for private training are often accused of being fanatical and obsessed. Of unrealistically thinking their kid is good enough to go pro or have his college paid for. But maybe the ones doing the accusing are not so different than those they condemn.

It is human nature to want what’s best for our children. And it is human nature, and particularly American, to be competitive. So it only seems natural that this combination is going to lead to parents hoping that their children can compete with – and outperform – their peers. If you don’t want to agree with this premise, think back a few years to when your first child was baby. Were you not excited when he or she took their first steps? Did you not agonize when friends with children the same age bragged that their babies were already walking? And wasn’t there some secret pleasure in being able to notify others with “less developed” children how your offspring was already trotting around? I remember thinking how odd it seemed to hear other parents boast about their babies’ accomplishments as if they might be an early indication of a world-class athlete in the making…but we all compared notes.

I’m sure this parental measuring-up is not just limited to sports. Look at the products on the market that claim to teach babies “reading” at age two. Maybe these programs are great – I don’t know. But it seems clear to me that the marketing is aimed right at parents’ egos – moms and dads who would love to claim to have a gifted child, clearly light years ahead of others on the intelligence scale. However, I wonder if all or even any of those same parents are convinced that their children are going to win a Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.

My point is that not every eager sports parent is thinking their child is going to someday sign a multimillion dollar contract or get a full-ride scholarship. Yes, there are some who are over-the-top when it comes to the opinion they have of their kids and there are plenty who are probably too involved and live vicariously through their little athletes. But I think that to some degree, whether it be sports, a piano recital, SAT scores, the spelling bee or the colleges our children are accepted into, we all do it. We all compare how our children stack up relative to others, and we all want to find reasons to be proud.

One time, several years ago when my youngest son was nine, we were playing in a baseball tournament and had just lost a tough game in the morning. Our team went out for lunch before the afternoon game. As some of us dads were talking, a few of them remarked about how “obnoxious” the parents from the other team, (which we knew to be from a less affluent area) were. One my player’s fathers said to me, “Maybe they take it so much more seriously because they don’t already have their kids’ colleges paid for.” Yes, those parents had been loud and got very excited when they won. But in my opinion, his comment made him look worse – not them.

Most folks know that the odds of landing a college scholarship or pro contract are long, (if you want to know just how long, click here). So it may not be that the “obsessed” parents we scoff at are aiming for some virtually unattainable future payoff, but rather, just want their children to do their best now. And sure, as with all of us, is is likely that mom and dad are getting some ego gratification out of seeing their kids succeed against others. But isn’t that normal? Perhaps we’re only condemning them because secretly we’d love to see our children do better than theirs.

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