Care and Feeding

Sidelined

My son is great at sports. What can I do if I just can’t stand watching his games?

Photo collage of a woman scratching her head while her son plays soccer behind her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Mantosh/iStock/Getty Images Plus and James & Carol Lee on Unsplash.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

For the first time in my 10 years of being a parent, I am really struggling—for real. My husband and I have one son, Evan, and we both have excellent relationships with him, but I have reached a roadblock I am not sure how to get around. Without knowing us, you would never put my husband and me together—he is a jock, super social, loves and plays sports, a real “guys’ guy.” I am an introvert and artist and have never played or watched a sport in my life. But he’s my best friend, and we just get each other; I wouldn’t trade my relationship with him for anything. Our son is just like him, and I couldn’t be prouder.

But I struggle. I want to be involved in Evan’s life, and I try. When he was little, I loved taking him to his sports outings—they were so cute, the competition was minimal, and the emphasis was on having fun. But now Evan is involved in a lot of competitive sports; he plays everything—volleyball, hockey, soccer, basketball, and football. He is very athletic, works very hard, and is even the captain of a couple of teams.

I find the whole thing very stressful. I don’t understand what’s happening with any of it. Sports have a language I just don’t understand (I have tried), and I find the tension overwhelming. I am shocked at how animated the parents get and how obsessed they are with winning—it’s a game! Let them have fun! People actually get upset about this stuff?

My husband sees how stressed the whole environment makes me, and he encourages me to limit my involvement, but how can I do that? I only have the one child! It means so much to Evan that I watch him, and I want to, but I just don’t want to be in that world. My husband coaches most of the time, so I’m usually on my own in the stands, and the anxiety I experience attending these things is getting worse; I am starting to dread weekends because that’s when most games take place. I usually volunteer to help organize, make posters, or fundraise. It’s just the games I hate—which is kind of the point. I have a lot of years of this ahead of me—how am I going to get through this without medication? I am seriously heading in that direction.

—Dropping the Ball

Dear DtB,

You see a problem—I see an opportunity! How great is it that your son has, on one hand, such a strident, athletic, bro-fluence in his father and, on the other hand, an artistic introvert in you. This means that he has the chance to grow into an overall well-rounded person, and that’s cool.

It’s fine for your son to know that you don’t super-love going to games. If you’re happy to help and support by volunteering in other capacities, do that. And of course, this opens up the space for you to find other ways to be with Evan—museums, movies, drawing, et cetera. I might recommend hikes or nature walks for the athletic kid and the aesthetically inclined mom. Evan will understand that there are other ways to love him without screaming yourself hoarse on a muddy soccer sideline, and he will appreciate it.

You get to draw a boundary here whenever you’re ready, and you get to express your love for your son in the way that you want to. You can trust yourself. He is lucky to have you.

—Carvell