by Meredith O'Brien
I was supposed to be in my Zen place, pushing away all extraneous thoughts. It was a yoga class, after all. But instead of chilling out, I was all worked up. Why? Two hockey moms in my class had told me that if my 8-year-old kid is interested in playing hockey, I’d better get used to the idea that his schedule and hockey would rule in my house.
“But what about the fact that I have two other children who both play soccer and have games and practices of their own?” I said, my voice getting higher as my face reddened. “And I’m trying to have a career here.”
The women shrugged. One said, “Something’s got to give.”
“That,” I stammered, “always winds up being me.”
“Enjoy it,” the other said sympathetically. “This time goes by so quickly.”
I don’t want the fact that my kid is interested in playing a recreational sport, just for fun – not for the purposes of becoming an Olympian or netting a college scholarship – to suck all the oxygen out of the family and leave me, the person who works from home and is therefore considered “available” for child care/transportation issues, resentful. “What am I getting myself into?” I asked myself.
Then I read a column called, “My 13 simple rules for hockey parents everywhere ” by an ESPN writer. Included among his “rules” was the admonition that hockey practices were not to be missed under any circumstances. He used the example of a PROFESSIONAL hockey player who was hit by an SUV and still played hockey that night as role modeling good hockey behavior. I wanted to scream, “My kid’s 8. He’s a kid! It’s an afterschool game, not something that’s really important, like his education! Or his health. Get some perspective.”
What worries me is the fear that my views about putting youth sports into perspective is a distinctly minority one. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve coached soccer while my husband has coached baseball, soccer and basketball. For years we’ve both driven our kids to practices and games for gymnastics, soccer, basketball, football, baseball, T-ball and hockey skating lessons. I love sports, in particular, Boston Red Sox baseball. Learning how to work as a member of a team, recognizing the value of commitment and hard work, and remaining physically fit are important ideals to teach my kids. I want to put youth sports in its proper place in my family’s life. It doesn’t trump school. It doesn’t trump family gatherings or holiday celebrations. It shouldn’t trump religion if you practice one, but all too often the games/practices do conflict. And it shouldn’t trump a parent’s career if he or she doesn’t want it to.
To try to inch myself off the ledge, I had a long talk with a woman whose son is friendly with mine and is already in the hockey program. She tried to soothe my worries by telling me I should expect one practice a week along with two games, on both weekend days, some in the early morning hours, from September through April. She also said the coaches she’d experienced were laid back, unlike when my then-10-year-old son played football, was cussed at and “punished” by being made to run laps when I brought him to practice 10 minutes late.
While I was trying to figure out why youth sports organizations make playing on a team so intense and involved, asking myself why there are so many club teams, year-round teams, camps, tournaments and seasons that never end, I stumbled across a study from the University of California San Diego called, “The Rug Rat Race ." Its authors asserted that, since the mid-1990s, college-educated parents, in an attempt to position their children to secure a coveted spot at a top college amidst a growing pool of competitors, have dramatically increased the time they spend trying to bolster their children’s “after-school resumes.” By carting the kids around to activities, they hope they’ll improve the chances of their children getting into a “good” school, the study concluded. “I was shocked to find moms with graduate degrees who had quit their jobs because they needed more time to drive their children to activities,” said Valerie Ramey  one of the study’s authors.
Then I read something completely different about a French author who has ticked off more than a few people by saying that moms need to knock it off with all this baby-centric nonsense and stop letting the kids run the adults’ lives. Elisabeth Badinter’s book The Conflict, The Woman and The Mother , has topped the French bestseller list and, according to The [UK] Times  “maintains that women have thrown off the shackles of male domination only to impose a far more pernicious tyranny on themselves — that of their own children.” Writing in Salon , Mary Elizabeth Williams said while she’s not on board with everything Badinter advocates, she added that, “sometimes, the best thing we moms can do for our kids is to let somebody else take care of them a while so we can grab a nap – or even a drink.”
Meanwhile, I’m still stuck in a no-win situation that would make Badinter scoff: Either go along with a sports season that stretches from September through April, where a sports columnist is advising that if my kid gets hit by an SUV that he should still show up to practice, or have him not play at all and tell him I’m siding with the French chick and having a glass of white wine instead of lugging him to hockey. I want to know how the people who created the youth sports industrial complex think that parents can remain gainfully employed, take care of their young children, and emphasize the importance of academics and reading while their children participate in youth sports which suck the life out of their moms, or at least out of me.
The answer: You can’t do all of these things at once. Hence the UCSD study saying moms are ramping up the time they spend carting kids around to stuff. Hence the advice of the women in my yoga class, who are already hockey moms, that if my kid wants to pay hockey, I might as well plan to live at the rink. So I guess this means that, starting in September, I’m going to involuntarily join the ranks of hockey moms. I think I’m going to need way more yoga to make it through though.