Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Looming Parent Syndrome

About three weeks ago, my son started playing soccer on Saturday mornings. The kids don't actually play games, but Emmett gets to burn energy dribbling the ball around with his best friend, Ethan. And despite the fact that Ethan seems to have a lot more interest in flirting with the instructors than kicking balls around, the socializing is probably the most important part of the whole activity – Emmett is cavorting with other kids in a way that really has nothing to do with me or his mom. It's important to me, anyway. I'm not sure if some of the other parents would agree given how they loom over their kids the whole session.

Let me describe the typical Saturday morning. The kids run around on the turf for a while kicking balls randomly until the session officially begins at 9:05. The instructors then gather the kids together into a circle, where they talk about something. I can't tell you what the topics of discussion are because I am usually sitting in the stands with my wife and Ethan's parents talking about work problems or where to find a good corn maze or whatever. There are boards and a net around the field to keep the balls in and, in my opinion, the parents out. If you haven't seen an indoor soccer field or a high school hockey rink, think cattle pen. One species on the inside, a different species on the outside, and a few ranch hands coordinating the whole affair. The boundaries are anything but blurry...

Except a lot of parents seem to feel an obligation to serve as sentinels throughout these sessions. It's always most pronounced when the kids are sitting Indian-style in a circle listening to the instructors. Six to eight parents (always guys who looked like they played football or hockey in their youth and got soft as they aged) loom over the affair like guards standing over their prisoners. It's creepy. It reminds me of those scenes out of fantasy books where the orcs are deciding which humans to eat. Why?

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" was inspired by Saturday morning soccer

I suppose there are probably three reasons for Looming Parent Syndrome (LPS). Reason number one is to make the kids feel safe. Ceding responsibilities for your kids' wellbeing is terrifying, particularly when they're tiny. I remember the first day we dropped Emmett off at daycare, feeling like a failure because, long ago, I'd quit a job where I was making enough money for my wife to stay at home with the kids. It was shocking how quickly those feelings morphed into a different type of inferiority complex: that I couldn't provide the level of engagement daycare did on a daily basis. But I digress. I think it's safe to say that hovering over your kid like a vulture looming over a dying cow is a bad way to nurture independence, particularly if there's an area 20 yards away that's specifically designed for looming. My gut reaction is that this is 75% responsible for LPS.

Reason number two: one don't trust the instructors. This is the most common explanation offered up when I discuss LPS with others. I suppose there are probably a few parents who home school their kids and pass on the whole Halloween thing because they're afraid that teachers or peers or whoever are going to convince their kids that God doesn't exist or that heroin is a good substitute for candy. I don't buy it, though, especially when you can stand 20 yards away accomplish the same kind of micromanagement. I'm guessing this is 5% responsible for LPS.

Reason number three is to fill some void in one's own existence. I sympathize with this explanation because it urges me to hop onto the field myself. I sneak out of the house at 5am during the week, and creep back in at 7 in the evening. I don't think my kids miss me a quarter as much as I miss them. Now, imagine you're a divorced parent or have to work two jobs or whatever. You probably want your kid to play soccer not just because he/she will have a hoot, but because it's a way to publicly show the world, “Hey, I'm a good dad, too!” I think there are better ways to feel connected with your kids and to demonstrate good-dadness than awkwardly encroaching on a play area where yours is just one of many kids who deserve their own space, but maybe I'll change my tune when my kids abandon me after I go blind and incontinent. My hunch is that personal voids account for 20% of LPS.

Whatever the reason, I hate it. I haven't asked him, but I wonder what Emmett things about LPS and whether it makes him nervous. I've kept my mouth shut because there's nothing more annoying than someone interfering with your parenting style, no matter how awful it may be. If you suffer from LPS and are reading this blog, though, please seek help!

Maybe your kid feels safer when you're nearby, but I don't think mine does...