Advice: The Real Work of Parenting

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I am struggling to manage my household, and feel like I am failing miserably.

Recently, I lost my job, so the all the financial burdens of our home are falling on my husband’s shoulders. I am looking, but haven’t found anything yet, since I’m a little older and it’s harder for me to find work. My husband is a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of guy and he hasn’t so much as said one angry thing to me, but I know the bills are piling up and he’s under a lot of stress. I hate it.

We have three kids living with us, and two of them are adults. One of the older kids is in college but the oldest one works. We also have one son’s girlfriend living with us, and two of their friends. They’re all employed but it’s part-time and they don’t make much money. Nobody contributes to the household.

I want to be a good mom, but I also feel like maybe these kids are taking advantage of me and my husband. What should I do? I’m really worried about how the financial stresses we’re under will affect my husband.

Signed, Worried about the Future

 

Dear Worried,

P: Oh, we are so sorry you lost your job. It is hard to find work as you age. There’s no question but that the market place isn’t forgiving of age. Check with all the local help sites and see if there’s support in getting a job. Don’t hesitate to call every single friend you have. You need every piece of help you can get.

However — about your home life! I worry that in your worry, you’ve lost your balance as well as your job. You’re allowing people to leech off you. Young adults whose parents don’t choose to do the same are living with you. Why would you allow them to drive you into poverty or bankruptcy? It’s not smart. It’s not kind. To you or them. Do not allow them to make your life more difficult. Your relationship with your husband is precious, you need to protect that.

B: Way back in the dawn of time, as human civilization developed and we gathered in communal caves and humans developed the traits associated with our sort of community-mindedness, rituals emerged that helped members of a family/clan/unit cross from youthful dependency to adulthood. These coming-of-age rituals were often dangerous (or at the very least emotionally trying) tests of strength or quests for survival. The participant had to manage on their own in the wild, or fight a bear, or walk through fire. And so on, and so on. The rituals served an important purpose, though, and they marked an important, life-affirming transition. The child left the hut, but then returned as a man.

Sometimes, I think it’s too bad we’ve gotten away from this sort of traditional journey into adulthood. Because your son and his friends and girlfriend could really use a “kick ‘em out the door and let ‘em fight the bear” kind of moment. It’s time they all grew up.

P: If there are people in your house who are earning but not contributing, they need either to pay or leave. If they’re making enough to buy gas to get to work and have clothes, then they can contribute from what’s left over. No one owes them beers, vids or tats. Especially people with money problems.

You’re not really being generous, you’re being taken advantage of.

B: By my count, there are eight people living in your house, including you and your husband, and only one person supports the entire lot of you. That, Momma, ain’t right. We will give a pass to the youngest child, who I assume is still somewhere in the K-12 range, and the older son who’s in college; for all intents and purposes, their schoolwork is their job right now, so we will leave them alone so they can focus.

Now. As for the rest of them…

Your son, his girlfriend, and two other friends all live under your roof—eat your food, make use of your facilities (shower, laundry, etc)—and don’t contribute a thing? Oh, Momma, you are being taken for a ride. With adulthood comes responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is participating in the upkeep of the roof over one’s own head. There is nothing about adulthood that entails living off the sweat of your parents while you behave like a high schooler who works at the mall for mad money.

P: Figure out what base costs are for you and your younger child to live there. Is your college kid working? Is his/her grade average high? Have you always paid for a child in school?

I know I’m old fashioned. I was brought up to participate. Are you doing laundry? Supplying food? Electricity? Sheets? Living space? All of these cost money. Put a price on it. And then set a date.

B: I’m not necessarily advocating that you throw your brood out into the street. I don’t know where you live, housing may be difficult to come by or prohibitively expensive to rent if you don’t have any savings for security deposits, etc.  But allowing them to live responsibility-free in your home does no one any favors. You and your husband are stressed out. Your youngest and the one in college are getting the message (loud and clear!) that in a few years they can live off your largesse, no matter what. And the oldest son and his crew are living an extended adolescence, which doesn’t help anyone. It’s time they take on the mantle of adulthood.

P: Set a schedule: As of a certain date, each of them will owe you $X per month (or week). Establish chores, as well… You might allow those who refuse to pay to sleep there an two extra weeks while they make arrangements, but there will be no food, no laundry, no wifi, no tv. If you have to, take those things out of their rooms. You take that tv out of their room, they’ll move really quickly. Or their devices, or, or, or.  Changing passwords is not all that difficult.

You do these young adults a disservice when you make them believe the world owes them a living. When will they be responsible? I’d want to be darned sure that son and girlfriend were using birth control as well. (when did I get this suspicious?) Because wouldn’t it be lovely for them, now when they have no responsibilities to have a baby you can support and babysit. Yikes. I mean really: Holy Moley!

B: Parents are afraid to seem “mean”. But do you know what’s more cruel than forcing your kids to grow up? Not preparing them for the realities of how the world works, so when they go out into it they can’t function. You can’t coddle them forever. You may think you’re showing love, but you’re emotionally crippling them all.

P: You need to protect your husband. You also need not to be so busy taking care of the house and the freeloaders that you can’t get a job or can’t find the energy to look for one. You also need to be a good role model for your kids and the neighbor kids.. And you owe your youngest a safe place to grow up. The older ones had it; if you can, you want to give the same stability to him/her. What you don’t want is a child that is seeing other people take advantage of you and then beginning to think that she/he can take advantage of you and of people in the future.

B: Long ago, living in the caves or the huts, once people crossed into what was determined to be “adulthood” for their era, they were expected to behave accordingly. Imagine an able-bodied young caveman saying, “I’m hungry…Dad, go out and bag us another caribou, will you? Me and Becky will be snuggling under our fur blanket while you and Mom kill and clean it. K? Thanks.” It sounds ridiculous, right? That’s because it IS ridiculous. Of course you’re worried, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. There’s no better time than the present to take control of this situation.

Taking care of someone doesn't necessarily mean coddling them. Remember that.

Taking care of someone doesn’t necessarily mean coddling them. Remember that.

The Stiff Upper Lip:

  • 3oz Gin
  • 3oz Apple Cider
  • 1/2 oz Triple Sec
  • Lemon Slices
  • Sliced Apples
    Preparation: 
  • Combine all ingredients into a shaker glass and shake well. Pour into a highball glass and garnish with apple slices and a lemon.

Got a problem? Email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces, insert proper punctuation. All questions will remain confidential.

Want to know more about The Bartender and The Priestess? Go here!

Thank you for reading. Now go tell all your friends about us. {{{heart hug}}}

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Advice: Whose Wedding Is It, Anyway?

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

Please help me try and talk some sense into my son. He is 30 and recently got engaged to a wonderful young woman, who is 31. I want to make it clear that we are thrilled that she’s going to be a member of our family and welcome her with open arms. She’s a young professional, works as a buyer for a retail company, and has a good head on her shoulders. My son launched a landscaping business a few years ago and he works hard, so he’s had success building his business. Of course, they’re busy planning their wedding, spending their free time looking at catering halls and event menus. I keep trying to tell them they don’t need to do anything big. Honestly, I think they should just elope.

Her side of the family doesn’t have a lot of money, so expecting her parents to pay for some elaborate affair is unreasonable. My husband and I are willing to contribute some money toward their wedding but we certainly can’t foot the entire bill, either, so the kids would be paying for it primarily by themselves. It just seems like so much money to spend on one day. Who needs a big hall and matching napkins? When I got married, I had a traditional wedding and I couldn’t believe how much money it ended up costing my father. My son and his future wife already have a house and all the expenses of their lives that they have to account for. They’ve been living together for the past five years, too. Because they already live together, I don’t feel like they need some fussy transition to bring them to “the first day of the rest of their lives”, or something like that. They’ve already transitioned, she is already there.

How can I make them see reason? 

Signed,

Worried Mother

Dear Mom,

B&P:  We can’t say we think it’s your kids who need to see reason. This is their wedding. Your letter makes us uneasy on a couple levels. We hope that you’re sharing your misgivings with the Bartender and the Priestess before sharing them with the couple. Because we think you have some work to do. This is such a common problem. Weddings are supposed to be joyous but instead, often bring out odd family dynamics. Ones that need to be dealt with so that when it comes to the Big Day, it’s all about the couple getting married. While we understand that you have hopes and dreams for your child, you have to understand that he’s the person who’s now making those hopes and dreams come true.

B:  Since Ann is, among her many talents, a wedding priestess, I’m going to let her take the point on this one. Go to it, Annie!

P:  First off, it’s their wedding. You have the right to decide whether you will give them money or not. You have the right to say if you’re going to give them money that they will use for their wedding or for their house.

It is not your decision whether or not they have a wedding. Presumably, you were around when your parents, not just your dad (unless your parents were divorced) were spending that money on your wedding. You could have called a halt to the spending at any time.

You have options for your generosity, but no options, really, to create financial leverage.

B: My question here is: how would you have felt, when you were planning your traditional wedding, if someone told you that for X reason (you’d already had sex with him so you can cut the white wedding act, or you were already a little *too* old to be the princess, or whatever) you probably ought not to have the wedding you wanted? Would you have thought that person had a point? Or would you have thought that he or she should butt out?

P: Secondly, it’s their money. You’ll give them a set amount (if you so decide) and then it’s up to them to figure out how to finance the rest of the event. You say they have a house and life, and you say they have the jobs that support that. No bank gave them money for a house if they didn’t have their finances in order. Hopefully you did a good job raising your son and he has solid financial values and isn’t going to endanger his future.

If they make some mistakes, hey, that’s part of their adulthood. All of us who have reached this stage have made some seriously bad investments in our time. And yet, here we are.

But he’s now out on his own; making his own decisions with his new family. She’s his primary family now. Your family and her family are the clan around the couple. You’re in a supporting rather than an organizing role. And by that I mean, it’s his checkbook not yours. If they want to get married, your gift or lack thereof will not be what determines their actions.

B: And not only is it your son and daughter-in-law’s money that you’re trying to manage, even though you make no mention of their actually asking you for any financial assistance. You’re also trying to dictate what’s to be done with her parents’ money too. I am often suspicious when someone employs a persuasive argument cloaked in, “It’s not just me. I’m also trying to be thoughtful of these other people who haven’t asked for my help in this.” Unless her parents called you up and personally asked you to mediate wedding plans on their behalf, then it feels like you’re trying to abdicate your responsibility for your feelings. For whatever reason, you don’t want to own up to why you want your son and daughter-in-law to keep their wedding small, so you’re putting the blame on her family. That’s dirty pool.

P: Thirdly, let the Priestess (aka the Wedding Priestess) assure you, people get married at all points in their relationship. Times have changed. You may or may not like that. But, you can’t as the song says, hold back time. Again, you can choose not to participate, but that won’t do much for your relationship with your son, your daughter-in-law or your some day grandchildren.

B: I am not “aka the Wedding Bartender”, but I’m no stranger to the industry, and I’ve even officiated a few myself. And what I’ve seen, over and over again, is that weddings aren’t necessarily about sending a blushing couple off into a new life together, no matter how much Jane Austen one watches. Instead, they are about two people choosing each other, and declaring in the way they deem most fitting for them, that they love one another more than anyone else. Do I think weddings are expensive? Yes. Do I think they’re often frivolous and overdone? Yes. Do I think that it is the decision of the bride and groom–and them alone–to determine what is the best way for them to celebrate and mark their feelings for their life partner? Yes. And there’s no right time, no external time frame, that decides what merits what level of ceremony. Some first-time young-marrieds want a simple legal ceremony performed by a JP, some fifth weddings want the whole shebang. And no one else has any say in the matter

P: And fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, what I hear in your statements is that you have no respect for your daughter-in-law. I’ll call her that rather than soon to be daughter-in-law, because as you say she’s already there. That’s a dangerous walk if you want a relationship with your son. He loves her. He has made his decisions. You need to find a way to love her too, because he loves her and he has made his decisions. I’m wishing them happiness. In the sad event that this relationship ever comes apart, remember you never get to say what it seems your truth is, if you never liked her anyway. He’s her choice, you’d better make ones that will get you what you want, which is ideally a great relationship with your son. So, again, my suggestion would be: find a way to love her.

B: There’s a symbolic line that gets crossed when two people marry, and that line involves the recognition that one’s children aren’t children any longer. They’re on their own, out in the world, ready to work and do chores and have babies of their own and enjoy all the ups and downs of a self-determined life. Traditionally, in the fables and the social rituals we base many of our marital practices on, this thinking dominates. It takes center stage even if it doesn’t resemble how the bride-and-groom-to-be actually live. You need to let them be the adults they are. Though they may have been on their own for years, you still call them “the kids”, and you’re still trying to maintain some kind of control over your son. And you need to trust that they’ll make decisions about their intended ceremony based on their needs, desires, and budget. Your son and daughter-in-law are not kids, and they’ve already established their own domain. He’s got his own household to manage, he is no longer a dependent of yours.

P: I’m sorry; this isn’t what you wanted to hear. The hardest part of raising children is keeping those hands open to let them go. Still, it’s probably the most important part. You and your husband, if he’s part of this decision, need to decide whether you’re going to give them money. You need to decide if you’ll participate in the preparations. But whether they have a wedding is–oh, I’ve avoided this, but here it is–none of your business.

You need to do what you need to do to deal with this. Therapy, conversations with your husband, conversations with your friend, just plain ol’ soul searching.

I can say that I believe that choosing generosity is always our best investment in the future. There’s an old adage that says the groom’s mother should wear beige and be quiet. I don’t believe that. I would say: Wear something wildly flattering and be the warm, loving, encouraging mother-in-law that your new daughter is going to want to come home to with her husband.

B: And look at the son and daughter-in-law you have before you. You raised a boy who became a man who started a successful business before he was 30. This man was thoughtful in his choice of life partner, and chose a woman who is smart and capable and building her own career, successfully. Let their actions be your guide. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you know what’s best for them; your role as mother-oracle is over now. Instead, love them as the adults they are, and believe they’re able to decide what’s best for themselves.

Let go and enjoy a loving, expanding family.

Let go and enjoy a loving, expanding family.

Drink: The Mother-In-Law

  • 2-1/2 ounces Bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon Cointreau
  • 1 teaspoon Maraschino
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes Amer Picon
  • Stemless cherry to garnish

Directions

  1. Place all of the ingredients, except for the garnish, into a cocktail shaker.
  2. Fill the shaker with cracked ice and then stir the mixture for 40 seconds to chill.
  3. Strain the mixture into a cocktail glass, garnish with the cherry, and then serve immediately.

Got a problem? Email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces, insert proper punctuation. All questions will remain confidential. 

Want to know more about The Bartender and The Priestess? Go here!

Thank you for reading. Now go tell all your friends about us. {{{heart hug}}}

Advice: When Divorcing Parents Stop Parenting

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I don’t know if you answer questions from teenagers, but I hope you do. Here’s my problem: My parents are in the middle of getting a divorce. I don’t think they have been happy for a while (my dad has slept on the couch a lot and my mom is always “working late”, yeahhhh, I bet), but it wasn’t until this summer that they decided to split up.  I don’t really mind that they are splitting up since we haven’t done “family things” much since I was little. What does bug me is that they are always trying to put me in the middle by wanting me to choose sides. My dad tells me bad things about my mom, my mom tells me bad things about my dad, and they both want me to choose them. To be honest, I couldn’t pick a side even if I wanted to – I think they are both acting stupid!  I mean I want them to be happy and all, and I love them both, but this is their problem and I just don’t want to have to deal with it all. Sometimes the pressure from it all is just too much.  When I get really overwhelmed, I sometimes cut myself to take some of the pressure off.  My parents don’t know that I’m a cutter (and I am scared to tell them), but sometimes I just don’t know what else to do. I am not, you know, suicidal or anything, and I don’t cut very deep. I just want my parents to chill out and stop asking me to decide who’s right and who’s wrong. I want to go to college some day, so I just want to worry about things like my grades, or things the other kids in my class are worrying about, like who to ask to Homecoming. Is that too much to ask?

– Stuck in the Middle

Dear Stuck:

B & P: Oh, our dear, No. It is not too much to ask. Let’s see if we can’t help you get out of the middle. Because you do NOT deserve to be there. And as you’re noticing, it’s a destructive place to be.

P: I’m sorry your parents are being so incredibly selfish. I’m sorry they’ve overlooked the fact that you’re their kid not a pawn in this game of one-upsmanship.

Because you still are a kid, I want to help you find some support. You should not be in this alone. You sound really capable. But you need to be a capable kid, not a capable adult for your parents.

Do your grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, minister, coach — someone/anyone know what’s happening to you? Is there someone in your life who’s willing to be an adult?

I’m going to stay on this who’s your adult, Terri’s going to talk about keeping you healthy, but let me tell you, we’re on your side. We’re adults and we want to help you stay concentrated on the things that are appropriate for you to be concentrated on. We want to help you stay safe.

B: Thanks to my own ride on my own emotional roller coaster, I have a deep and abiding compassion for self-destructive behavior. There’s something going on in your world that makes you want to escape, makes you want to throw your attention somewhere else. Some people drink. Some people develop eating disorders. And some people cut themselves.

None of these responses are acceptable in the face of life’s stresses, though they are understandable. You want some kind of release. Cutting gives you some kind of control over the crazy-making degree of bad you’re feeling (because at least you have something to feel bad about, amirite?). Because in a lot of ways, making yourself feel actual physical pain is a lot easier than facing the spiritual pain that arises from the fact that the people in your life who are supposed to protect you are, instead, tearing you apart.

You’re talking about grades and Homecoming, so you’re still very young. But you’re also developing a growing awareness of the world around you, and are recognizing inappropriate behavior, particularly on the behalf of your parents. You’re right; they are acting stupid. Please don’t compound their negative behavior by engaging in your own.

P: Through this debacle, your job is to be the kid: to think about your grades and your dates and the things going on in your life. It is also your job to be sad about the break up in your family — because let’s face it, it’s always easier if our parents love each other.

So, how do you go about being a kid when the world around you is falling apart?

I’ll keep saying, you have to find some adults. It’s lousy that you’re the one that has to find the adults, but clearly your parents aren’t going to either be them or find them for you.

I’m really glad you told us about your cutting because, however controlled you are, this is a dangerous precedent. This says you need and want help. Cutting holes in your skin doesn’t mend the holes in your heart even if it feels as if it provides vent holes from time to time.

If your grandparents aren’t available or capable of stepping up, then stop and think about who in your life could be your advocate. Who will help you get the support you need?

I’d like you to have a counselor. You really deserve help. There’s an old myth about doing this stuff alone, but some stuff you shouldn’t have to do alone. Even if you can, it’s easier if you have support. Therapists are trained to help you think through things. This is the first time this has happened to you, but sadly, it has happened to lots of other people. Your therapist can offer you wisdom, support and suggestions. If you think your parents can’t afford it, your guidance counselor at school can help you get to the school therapist. If your parents can afford to send you to counseling, your guidance counselor will have references for you. Because sadly, you’re not the only kid in your school with problematic parents.

B: I need to echo Ann here. Please, please, please: STOP. Stop hurting yourself, stop clouding your thoughts with physical pain, stop amplifying the bad juju, stop doing something that is potentially addictive and unquestionably damaging. I get that asking someone who’s engaging in self-destructive behavior often falls on deaf ears (if only I had listened when that first person told me to stop smoking!). I get that you’re not suicidal, and this is an expression of your severe emotional distress. You’re also cutting yourself and more than that, you’re weakening yourself, making this spiral of emotional turmoil a thing from which it is progressively more difficult to free yourself.

You’re hacking away at your getaway car and not doing anything about the robbery.

Because let me make this clear: your parents are robbing from you. They’re stealing your sense of security. They’re taking your safe home away from you. They’ve plundered your adolescence. And what’s worse is they’re asking you to be complicit as they take these things away. They’re asking you to be an accomplice in their emotional assaults on one another. It might not be technically criminal, but it should be. Abandonment. Jerkitude. Your parents are so caught up in their spite games that they’ve abdicated their roles as parents and are leaving their child-rearing duties up to you. Welcome to early adulthood, and I’m sorry. You’ve got to be the person to find your own way out of this. For that, you need strength, not self-induced bloodletting.

Please start to look for help. You’re self-aware enough to know that all of these behaviors swirling around in your life are not OK; you know your parents aren’t OK, you know cutting isn’t OK. You wrote this letter, so you’ve got the fortitude to look for exits, and have already made the first step toward reaching out. Take Ann’s advice and go to a trusted adult. A professional at school, a savvy aunt/uncle/grandparent that you can trust, someone who you know has your best interests at heart and will stand beside you as you make your parents aware of how you’ve reacted to their petty self-interest.

Let’s face it. Your parents should take some ownership of those cuts.

P: You might want to do this next within the context of your therapy, or with your best friend’s parents, but consider writing a letter to your parents. I’d want you to have your advocate stand with you as you write this. I’d suggest ccing the judge if there is one and your parents’ lawyers. Sadly, I’m sure you know who they are.

Dear Mom and Dad, your asking me to choose sides leaves me angry and scared. I need someone to think about me, because I’m still a kid. I’ve got to get good grades and graduate and get into a good school so that I can be an effective, happy grown up. I know you love me. I’m sad you love fighting more. I’m sad you don’t realize I need parents.

You’re both asking me to love only you and forget that your former partner is my other parent. It makes me crazy… like literally crazy. So crazy that I’ve started cutting myself. And you don’t even notice.

If you won’t give up give up the horrible fighting, and resolve your differences like grown ups as you divorce, would you at least help me find somewhere to live where I wouldn’t be in the midst of a war zone. I want to finish high school here and think about what’s ahead for me. I don’t want to flunk out because you’re not caring about me.

I can’t be your marital/divorce counselor. And you won’t get one. What am I supposed to do? It’s not my business what’s wrong with your relationship. I’m your kid. I’m your business. Will you at least get me a counselor so I have some support as I go through this?

You say you love me. Please help.

Refusing to play the game, love, your son.

Good luck in your attempt to be a teen again.

Good luck in your attempt to be a teen again.

Got a problem? Email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces, insert proper punctuation. All questions will remain confidential. 

Want to know more about The Bartender and The Priestess? Go here!

Thank you for reading. Now go tell all your friends about us. {{{heart hug}}}

Advice: That’s No Way To Win The Game, Dears

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

My husband and I recently went to our granddaughter’s softball tournament, and got to witness some appalling behavior on the behalf of the opposing teams’ coaches. Both coaches, from both teams.

One coach got up into the umpire’s face because of a call. This normally doesn’t happen and is certainly not permitted, and it caused a 30 minute delay in game. A mediator had to be brought in, and the ump’s original call stood. Then the opposing team’s coach caused a fit over a requested rain delay, which was not granted. To me, it felt like bullying, and it destroyed the spirit of the game.

I understand that winning is nice, but winning at all costs worth it? I thought their behavior was inexcusable. And how do parents and grandparents manage this? I have a 12-year-old granddaughter, and I don’t want this to be her main impression of what to expect from team sports.

–Fair-play Grandmom

~~~The Bartender and The Priestess respond~~~

P: Wow, I’m so sorry. For you, for the kids, for all of us.

I’m not sure when children’s local sports slipped from something kids do to the most important thing in the world. Sure, there have always been notably irate parents but they were fewer and farther between, if only because social strictures were stronger.

Disclaimer, I don’t do sportsing and neither does my beloved Bartender. We do things for our health, and we may watch them on tv, but game sports are not my field of expertise.

Bad manners? Bad child rearing? I think we’re ready to talk about this.

B: Critics of team sports—while generally looking at manly sports like football and hockey and such—point out that they are, in quite a few startling parallels, much like organized warfare. There are distinct sides, identifying uniforms. Sports involve strategy, Us v. Them, and can even—especially at the end of a tournament—end in militaresque victory parades. If you don’t believe me, watch the Olympics and tell me that’s not a way for countries to deploy against one another in a socially acceptable manner.

I mean, hey. We’re still basking in the glow of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team’s surprising defeat of the USSR’s Central Red Army team. If that wasn’t a thinly-veiled war game, I don’t know what was.

I don’t oppose organized sports. I even love some of them. But it’s easy to see how they can knock a participant over the edge and straight into fanaticism. “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” isn’t that right? That’s been floating around in our public consciousness since it was first uttered in 1950. (Fun fact: NOT said by Vince Lombardi but rather, by UCLA football coach Red Saunders. Take that, misattributed quote promoters!)

P: So, to start with: in my opinion, sports are a great way for kids to figure out the way their bodies work, to learn to follow directions, to learn to strategize and to learn to collaborate in achieving their goals. And it’s probably not a bad thing to learn a bit about friendly rivalry. As when you start to do anything, especially if you’re going to be good at anything, you’re spending a lot of time being gloriously bad at things. When you have to learn so many things at once, there are so many ways to be bad.

Still it’s a thrill to play and a thrill to get better. Look, arms and legs all headed in the same direction YAY. Look, ball successfully arrived at another kid, WOW!

Now something we learn in this process is that not all of us have what it takes to take our particular sports world by storm. Young dreams aside, few of us are going to be the best athlete in the world in our sport. Yep, actually a really small percentage. A modest number will grow up and become really competent. So that leaves a lot of other kids to learn about running and team work and cheering people on.

B: You’re right in worrying that “winning at all costs” is problematic, since learning how to lose graciously is part of becoming a fully functioning adult. It’s, sadly, something the battle-coaches you talk about failed to teach their charges when they had the opportunity. The world doesn’t always conform with the outcome you want, and kids need to learn that that is OK. Losing a tournament shouldn’t result in tantrums. It shouldn’t end in personal recriminations. It doesn’t make a child less of a person if they don’t win a softball tournament. It doesn’t diminish their ability to draw or do math or play piano or bake. It just means they didn’t win a softball tournament. Life will go on.

P: The likelihood is that your child is not the next Derek Jeter or Serena Williams, and their work on the field isn’t the most important thing they’ll do in their life. Although the time and interest and fun you invest in them may well be the most important thing you do in your life. It may be the most important thing you give them. Not only is there love, but there is also hanging out with friends, doing something together. There is, we devoutly hope, a sense of your parents, siblings, grandparents being proud of you and all around glad you exist.

B: The one bit of relief I find in this letter is that the writer doesn’t implicate parents in being the sports-crazed bad seeds. Honestly, since the perpetrators of bad behavior were opposing team coaches, it makes me wonder (reading DEEPLY between the lines) if there isn’t a personal issue between the two of them.

Now, they may have learned how to coach from watching too many film clips of coaches kicking dust on an ump’s shoes, and you may have had the misfortune of getting two people with severe anger management issues. And any reason for petulant behavior like that is inexcusable. But you may have—let’s face it, mostly likely have—been witnessing the expression of issues that have nothing to do with the game at hand. Maybe the coaches were romantic rivals. Maybe they’re former lovers. Maybe it was a perfect storm of bad juju, and Coach A just had a fight with his/her significant other while Coach B was fighting a vicious toothache. Or maybe they’re narcissistic win-hounds who will wear sackcloth and ashes if they lose a game. Bad blood will out. The kids, and the game, bore the brunt. Regardless, shame on them for engaging in an “I am the squeakiest wheel!” method of coaching.

You're out of order! You're all out of order!

You’re out of order! You’re all out of order!

P: Let’s talk about their lack of courtesy. Oh, what a disaster. Lots of towns are adopting courtesy codes. They should be urging them on the sports organizations. Sports organizations should be examining their mission statements. They should have pledges anyone, any adult, involved in the sport should sign. And there should be penalties. Although the importance of winning is certainly emphasized over playing, just about everywhere in life, isn’t it? So maybe it won’t matter to a parent if she/he is banned from ever watching their child play again as long as, by hook or by crook, they win a t-ball game. Are we ready to give this up and be neighbors, friends and oh, by the way, parents? Because this is immature, self-indulgent and distasteful.

B: I want to eliminate the word “bully” from this discussion. I appreciate your awareness of the problems that come from bullying and thank you for being vigilant in opposing it and its negative effects. But all bad, mean-spirited behavior isn’t bullying, and I don’t want to water down the meaning of that word. The coaches in question weren’t aggressors going after a target they perceived to be weaker; they were peers battling for supremacy. Pissing contests are not bullying events.

P: Bullying may be too easy a catchword. The Bartender and I just indulged in a sidebar argument. We reached no permanent agreement other than on the fact that it’s stinko behavior. She thinks the way the stinko behavior gets expressed is a personal issue, I think it’s a permission issue… I think it’s a threatening temper tantrum without regard to who’s involved… with regard only to whether we win, win, win. It’s a ridiculous use of power and privilege. I wish the only people doing this were just these two tantrum tossers. I wish it weren’t soccer moms and dads (and football and base/softball and wrestling and all) (and sometimes grandparents — good for you for calling this out!)

B: US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote that the remedy for negative speech is “…more speech, not enforced silence”. You (and her parents) need to talk to your granddaughter, get her to explore how she felt about it, guide her to understand that sometimes, adults act irrationally and none of that behavior was acceptable or should have been perpetuated at her and her team’s and her opposing team’s expense. It should not have been endured, nor should it be emulated.

Then model the behavior you do want her to emulate. Gather together for a family game of softball. Have a pepper game in the back yard. Get some board games, play Risk. But undertake these actions with the idea that you will all participate in these games for fun, and for bonding purposes, with all ego left at the door.

P: Parents? And grandparents? You have a couple responsibilities. You need to get the kid to team practice and to games and to spend some fun time kicking, throwing, batting, something-ing around the ball in the back yard with your kid. It can be great bonding time. It can be a fun memory that your kid can look back on and say, “wow, my mom/dad always had time for me.” (That can happen even if you’re really bad at the sportsing thing. Just keep the glove in front of your face or the mask/helmet on!) You need to recognize that a game is just a game and that your kid may just be a kid who needs to have fun, and that this is helping your kid become confident and competent. Maybe your kid is a freaking genius; acting like this, you can hopefully help her/him develop teamwork, camaraderie, and self-discipine in the process of sorting out his/her arms and legs and developing brain — Because of course discipline matters immensely in developing genius.

And if your kid is not a freaking genius, you can still offer to play catch. Or go and cheer. Or float down a river on some inner-tubes and relax…

What the doctor ordered.  (Note: not a real doctor. But I would play one on TV, casting directors.)

What the doctor ordered.
(Note: not a real doctor. But I would play one on TV, casting directors.)

Many thanks to Deb Slade for her Phabulous Photos!

Many thanks to the lovely Jean for modeling and playing along!

Many thanks to the good people of the Lewisburg Hotel for letting us use their facility!

For more information about The Bartender and The Priestess, go here.

Got a question? Email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces and add appropriate @ and . signs. No real names will be published.

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