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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.


The Shame Game

Susan Boyd

As many seconds exist in 24 hours, that’s how many opportunities our children have to embarrass us in any given day. We’ve all been there, red-faced, as we experience heaps of humiliation and then dust ourselves off until the next event. Obviously, we have a big investment in our kids and their achievements, but we often forget that we can’t just be proud all the time. Occasionally, or even regularly, we have to accept that our kids won’t be a source of delight but a source of mortification. These embarrassments can fall into categories such as bad behaviors, verbal miscues, mistakes and confrontations. In every case, they are public and obvious. Most of the time, all we can do is shake our heads. The damage is done quickly and openly, just as moments of pride occur quickly and openly, but we can keep our head up in those circumstances. When indignity occurs, we can be filled with horror and feel the need to skulk away without even acknowledging the event. However, we should remember that everyone’s kids embarrass them just as all our kids bring us great rewards. The problem is that the embarrassments seem to burn more acutely than the rewards soothe. Perhaps hearing a few of the more significant awkward experiences I’ve witnessed over the years on the soccer pitch and other sports events – some even including my own children – you’ll see that none of us are alone in feeling discomfort from our kids.
During a game with 6-year-olds, a player was sprinting across the field when he suddenly stopped, turned with a mortified expression toward his parents on the sidelines, and shouted across the grass, "Mom, I just farted!" Titter, titter, smirk, smirk, we all enjoyed the outburst. How cute that he felt such a normal body function deserved an announcement. Mom shouted back, "That’s okay. Don’t worry about it." The child didn’t move, but stood there looking totally distressed and definitely not happy with his mother’s response. "Mom, I really farted." "Yes, I got it. It’s okay." What had been at first a rather precious outburst was now obviously becoming embarrassing and intrusive. The boy started to cry and remained standing as the game swirled around him. "Mommy, I need help. I farted bad!" At that we could see his shorts were drooping in the rear. Mom took off her sweatshirt, ran across the field, and helped her son remove his shorts while wrapping him in the hoodie she would never wear again. We couldn’t help laughing, partly due to the comedy of the moment, but mostly in the embarrassed acknowledgement that, but for a bean-free lunch, we’d be the ones sprinting across with a warm-up in hand.
During a particularly contentious U-10 co-ed game, we parents were keeping up a constant banter coaching, criticizing and praising. For the most part, our vocal outbursts were not particularly helpful or necessary. Between telling the assistant referee on our side which balls were actually out and which weren’t, getting frustrated with every whistle, instructing our players on what they should be doing, criticizing the aggressiveness of our opponents, and being overly enthusiastic on good play, including shaking cans with coins and shouting, we pretty much managed to embarrass our kids. About five minutes into the second half, as a young lady was streaking down the sideline "running the gauntlet" of verbal blows, she lifted her finger to her lips and emphatically announced to us all, "Settle down!" There’s nothing like being reprimanded by a 10-year-old and knowing she was right to bring the blood to our cheeks and the droop to our shoulders. The sidelines were completely silent for at least a minute. Eventually we did reengage in our vocalizations, but they were short bursts of praise. We had learned our lesson.
Our oldest son has no qualms about standing up for himself. During a soccer game it was apparent that he and a player on the opposing team weren’t seeing eye-to-eye. Bryce was playing on the field, although he was usually a goalkeeper. After every close encounter, we could see that these two boys were jawing at one another. I was hoping the ref would notice and get the two of them to calm down. As the game continued, their verbal interactions increased in intensity, but surprisingly they were playing very cleanly and hadn’t had any slide tackles, shoulder to shoulder contact or body kicks. In fact it seemed that they were purposely focusing just on their verbal battle. At one lull in the game, as a free kick was being set up, we could see that these two adversaries were exploding in a verbal battle, closing in on one another, and nearing the point of an actual fist fight. When Bryce let loose the first strike, I have to say I was mortified. We had taken great care to teach the lesson that the boys were never to use physical means to settle an argument, but were to use their words instead, and when that failed, to just walk away. As the boys tussled and then were broken up by the referee, they both received a red card. There’s nothing more heart-wrenching than to see your child exhibiting the very behavior you had hoped he would avoid, especially during a soccer game. As we walked to the car after the game, Bryce knew I was disappointed in him, even though I hadn’t brought up the incident. "Mom, I tried to use my words, but he wasn’t listening! And I couldn’t walk away . . . I was the forward." How often have we witnessed the words failing and the fists filling in? It’s embarrassing, but unfortunately it’s part of the game.
Sitting in the stands of a Class-A baseball game, we had brought our two daughters, four and three months old. During my pregnancy with Shane, we had taken the time to explain what was happening and what Deana could expect. We had a book that showed the size of the baby at each week, so every Saturday we would all lie in our bed and study what Shane looked like. We talked about the birth process and answered whatever questions Deana had concerning this event. It was all done matter-of-factly so Deana wouldn’t see it as traumatic or unusual. Now Shane had arrived and it was a warm September afternoon to enjoy a local ballgame. We had brought one of Deana’s friends along to keep her company. As the game progressed, Deana and her friend became more and more animated. We could hear, "Is so!" "Is not!" but I figured they were arguing about whether or not Big Bird was a boy or a girl. Then as the crowd noise subsided for just a moment to lend a clear, empty backdrop to her eruption, Deana shouted, "Mom, tell Sara that babies come out of your vagina, not out of your belly button!" We were sitting right behind the on deck circle, so besides the fans in the stands, Deana’s declaration was heard by several ball players. Everyone, except for me and my husband, had a good laugh. We were too embarrassed to find the humor then. We also had seven more innings to sit in the stands and watch the ball players on both teams pointing up to us. I expected to see the entire scene played out on the evening news. Thank goodness it wasn’t!
Talk about going from the top of the mountain then falling to the bottom of the chasm. At a high school game, a player who had played only a few minutes during the entire year suddenly found himself in the game to give a teammate a chance to rest just before the first half ended. What a moment of pride for both the player and his parents. Then, adding to the amazing opportunity, he scored his first and only goal of his high school career. The crowd erupted, the parents high-fived, and the team ran to congratulate their novice buddy, but not before the kid pulled his shirt over his face and ran around the field in the airplane mode that professional soccer players use. Unfortunately, celebrations after goals had been outlawed by the state high school governing association, and therefore the player was rewarded for his efforts by an automatic red card, leaving his team a player shy and ultimately losing that game to be eliminated from the state championship bracket. His poor parents now had a very confusing scenario to address – how to praise him for his efforts and downplay his dismissal. The crowd had quickly turned from supportive to antagonistic while the parents had to sit for an entire half and watch their son’s team struggle and lose, possibly directly attributable to his mistake.
There are so many moments of embarrassment that our kids visit upon us during sports, not to mention while at school, church, parties, shopping, in fact any place we are out in public with our children. They will swear inopportunely, spout out phrases they have heard us say in private like "Mom, why are you happy she’s pregnant. You said they have enough kids already," throw punches, tantrums and objects, scream and cry uncontrollably, whine and beg, trip and destroy store displays as innocuous as books and as expensive as crystal goblets; I could go on, but you all have your own "favorite" stories. Once I was shopping in a mall with Robbie in tow. Robbie was three or four at the time. We had been in a store to look for t-shirts, but left without finding anything he or I liked. As we made our way down the mall concourse, he was lagging behind, and I could hear this distracting screech, thud, screech, thud behind me. Without looking around I kept encouraging Robbie to catch up, and he would respond he was trying. Finally I whipped around, ready to reprimand him about his slowness only to see him laboring as he dragged a giant snow shovel behind him that he had collected somewhere in the store. First I was embarrassed because I’m sure people thought I was a terrible mother to expect my poor baby to be responsible for the shovel I had bought and then embarrassed to have to carry it back to the store and explain that my son had helped himself to this piece of hardware. So add inadvertent shoplifting to the list. No matter how much we feel we can weather anything our kids offer up, they manage to find a new way to shame us. Growing up we had a very portly babysitter. She was wonderful with us, and I remember her warmly. But before her first visit, my parents had explained to me and my two brothers that she was heavy, that people came in all shapes and sizes, and we weren’t to make a big deal about it. When she arrived in our living room and my mom was explaining to her bedtimes, phone numbers, etc., my oldest brother was walking round and round her, studying her. Then he stopped with a look of Eureka. "Mom, she’s not fat. Her head is just set back too far." You could hear the blood coursing in my mother’s cheeks!
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